BUSINESS: How to Ditch a Corporate Career to Build Your Own Business: Courtney Brand of The Lighthouse tells how she did it
Ever wonder how to leave your corporate career and make the leap to entrepreneurship and run your own business?
Wonder if it’s even the right thing to do if you’re killing it in your corporate career even if you’re not happy?
Courtney opens up and tells all about how she thought about it, what she did to prepare and how she’s never had a more satisfying feeling then owning and running her own business.
A full transcript of the episode is below
Hey everyone and welcome to another episode of build a business. I am your host, Brandon C. White and today we have a great episode with Courtney Brand of the lighthouse. She has an amazing story. How has she had a just amazing, I’m using that word a lot today, amazing career going in consulting at a high powered consulting firm and gave it, I basically had a dream job of what she wanted and gave it all up to start our own business. It’s a great story of really introspection and starting to understand yourself and what you’re willing to do and how you’re willing to live your life. So I know you’re going to love this episode. I put together a cheat sheet. I’ll give you at the end where you can download that in case you are inspired by Courtney story and want to go off and start your own business. So you’re going to love it. I look forward to hearing your feedback in the reviews of your podcast player that you have that I know you’re going to leave for us. And without any further ado, Courtney brand, the light house. Let’s get to it.
Hey everybody, welcome. We have Courtney Brand from the lighthouse. On this morning, Courtney and I met through a mutual friend who actually was on the podcast, Joe Tiano. Uh, what do we call them? Attorney extraordinary turned entrepreneur extraordinary. And he knew Courtney. He knows Courtney, he’s actually an investor in Courtney’s business and an advisor. He was so impressed with her that he did that and he called me after we did the podcast. He’s like, Hey, I have this lady in New York that you have got to talk to. So Corey and I talked the other day. She’s got an incredible story. And the interesting part about her story is, is that she left the job that she actually loves. So Courtney, thank you so much for being here this morning. I know we had a few technical difficulties probably by me not following my checklist, but we are good to go now.
Brandon, thank you so much for having me. I’m really happy to be here.
So let’s take the viewers back. One of the things that I like to do for everyone is actually tell the real story of how you got to even where you are today with the lighthouse and we’ll talk about what the lighthouse is later on, but can you walk everybody back through your career because you’ve had a really incredible career doing things around the world and then we’ll walk up to where we are today, which is you in New York with a very professional mic because of your tech person. Yeah, I don’t even have, yeah, so all right. Yeah. Take us back from where you started in your career and how you got here.
Yeah. After graduating from college, I started off my career working in management consulting, so I was with for five years. I started with them in New York, worked there for two years, but honestly that entire time was just trying to get my way to China and the China connection is in college. I was a Chinese major. I speak Mandarin. I’m very interested in the culture and the history. Everything about China fascinates me. And so I really want to get the experience of working there full time. And so after about a year and a half of kind of networking internally within the firm, I got the opportunity to move to China with PWC. I was there for three years in total. And like you touched on, it was I fell into my dream job in a lot of ways it was this incredible experience where a lot of the consulting firms have started to introduce these do practices that are all around focusing on helping fortune 500 companies stay relevant and not be disrupted by new technologies and new startups and really stay relevant and start disrupting themselves. And so for PWC, the name of that team is called the experience center and we hadn’t yet launched the experience center in China. And so I was part of a small kind of five person team in mainland China in charge of launching that. And it was this incredible experience where over the course of three years got to work with dream clients ranging from Alibaba to Apple to Mercedes to Porsche it. And really just had an amazing experience there.
So what were you doing with those brands? If you can talk about it specifically. I mean obviously the China market is huge and I want to step back. What was your draw? You sort of glossed over it in a way like, Hey, I just wanted to get the China, like why do you want to get to China and how did you even figure that out? Cause as an a fellow American who it was brought up in American culture and as we talked about the other day, I studied in China for my MBA and in Shanghai and Hong Kong, quite frankly, I was completely shocked when I showed up to Shanghai. And in my mind it was one of the most modern cities. But it is not as if the Americans aren’t necessarily taught like, Hey, let’s learn Mandarin. Probably one of the hardest languages in the world. And then let’s get to China. Like how, how did that happen for you?
Yeah, I’ve reflected a lot on this because honestly my family is still confused by why I’m so fascinated in it with it. But honestly, I think, so my mom came from a pretty small town in New Hampshire and kind of in adulthood she moved abroad and she’s learned German and she worked in Germany and she kind of opened up the world for herself. And one of the priorities of when she had us, meaning me and my sisters was she wanted to make sure that we were exposed to that world too. So she actually, we were sent to a French school, we grew up speaking French and we are not French. So that’s a very random thing to do. And I think in a lot of ways that kind of planted the seed of there’s this bigger world out there and also planted the seed of through a language you can connect with an entire different group of people.
And that’s a really fascinating thing. And when I was in high school, because I had this background in French, I kind of advanced out of the French classes pretty quickly. And my, I forget if it’s my junior or senior year of high school, they introduced Mandarin as a, as an option for the first time. And I immediately signed up, so did a few of my friends and we didn’t learn that much in those, in that year. I think we mostly watch Milan, but it was right around the time of the 2008 Olympics and it kind of planted the seed of, Hey, there’s this whole other world. It’s part of the world that I’ve never explored, never been to, which is Asia. And this language is completely different from any language I’ve been exposed to. And it was really when I got to college that I kind of dove headfirst into it. After my freshman year, I had to declare a major and I had just looked at all the classes I was in that year and was like, what am I most interested in? What am I most excited about? And Chinese class was always the class. So I really, I fell in love with it through the language and kind of seeing how that opened up so many other doors to learning about a new culture, learning about an incredible and overwhelmingly long history and also this very quickly changing market as well.
So do you think that you went to Georgetown right in Washington D C do you think that that helped? I mean obviously your mom and all the, you know, just being exposed I think is the key here. Like once that door opens we all think, Oh my God, well maybe it’s just not the East coast or maybe it’s not just my local town. But certainly I’m wondering the Georgetown connection and just the international community there definitely helped at some level,
a hundred percent and it’s interesting. Georgetown’s Chinese program is particularly strong and that wasn’t a decision factor in deciding where I wanted to go cause I didn’t know yet. I wanted to be a Chinese major. But I really lucked out in the fact that Mandarin and Chinese programs all over the country are kind of in their nascent stage, or at least they were when I was in college. Yet I landed at a school that had an incredibly strong program and there were scholarships. I got a scholarship to study in Taiwan. There were Chinese language competitions in DC. Like it would definitely being in DC and being at such an international school helped to kind of accelerate my learning of this language and so on.
Even one step back. So you don’t know that you even are interested in Chinese specifically until you get to college. So when you’re in high school, you picked Georgetown. Why do you, what do you think you’re going to do?
Um, in high school I really thought, I’ve always been very career focused weirdly. Um, that makes sense. Now in school I really thought I wanted to be a news anchor, but I, and this might come out on this podcast, have this, I don’t speak like sometimes I’ll just make up words or completely fudge your word and I blame like learning multiple languages. I blame that part of it. So I quickly realized that that wasn’t necessarily going to be the path for me. I don’t think I had a clear career objective going into Georgetown. I did know that I wasn’t a lot of people at Georgia. I want to be the next president. That actually when I started, I thought I wanted to be more on the policy side, but pretty quickly realized I was more interested in the international business side of things. But I wouldn’t say I had a clear career objective going into college.
Well, I appreciate that honesty and I think for our listeners, the thing is is that we, we see people who are doing these businesses and they’re successful and are on their way to success and we think that that was sort of the straight line. Oh well Courtney just decided she was going to do a business in high school. She went to Georgetown and this happens. But as really not the case, right. I mean you didn’t even know you were going to go into Chinese and I bet you that you didn’t probably think that you’re going to start a business at some point either. Right.
Definitely not. Entrepreneurship was not something that was necessarily my path. I really am one of those people who experienced problems, started solving it and then realized that that was, could have, could be a company. And that was kind of my path. And rather than saying, I want to be a founder, I want to be my own boss, let’s figure out a problem to solve.
I got us a little off track there. Uh, but thanks for that is you’re in high school, you get to Georgetown, you discovered Chinese. You at that point decide that you’re going to get to China somehow you work at PWC, they have this new group. You somehow navigate your way through the corporate culture, let’s say into that. Can you talk a little bit of how you actually did that for our listeners? Cause I think that’s, I mean that’s a challenge onto itself at a place. A big company.
Yeah, a hundred percent. So one of my really good friends from PWC still jokes that when you’re part of one of these big classes of consultants, there’s probably, I don’t know, hundreds across the U S that get onboarded in one swoop and they fly all of you to Florida for a two week training. And then after two weeks you start your client work. And I remember in that two week training, one of my friends will still makes fun of me because he’s like, I remember meeting you and in that training you said that you wanted to get to China and he was like, we haven’t even started our jobs yet. Like while you’re already trying to transition when and like go to the China market when you haven’t even started your full time job. But I was pretty laser focused on it and the way I went about it was just like that telling anyone within the company at either my level, more senior levels and so on and I was very transparent about it.
A lot of the conversations, nowhere a lot of the conversations ended with Hey cool, that’s interesting that you speak the language but you’re 2122 I’m a director and I’m still trying to get international work experience. Like why should you get it, wait your turn. And a lot of those conversations happen. And then ultimately it took persistence. And then the right person opening the right door, which was Brad Denning, who is the partner I was working for at the time, was friends and had worked with another partner, Scott lichens, who’s the partner who founded this practice in Hong Kong. And so Brad knew, Scott introduced me and then we had a couple of interviews and it still was another six months before I actually got the offer and then another six months before I actually moved.
So you clearly have it in your genes that you will not take no for an answer. Well that’s awesome. So you finally get there. And I think for our listeners, just to hear that again, it did not happen overnight. Courtney basically has all these roadblocks and still continues and I would argue good training for what entrepreneurship will bring you, which is 10,000 nos. And uh, having to keep a smile on your face like you have for those on YouTube who can see it. Um, but you gotta keep smiling. So you find yourself in China and now you land in China and you’re working with a faculty like fortune 50 or fortune 100 fortune 500 companies. What type of work were you doing with those for those companies there?
Yeah, to be honest, it’s really hard to speak in broad strokes because we were starting this new practice, we didn’t really know what kind of work we’d be doing there and it was very project by project and we also, because we were new to the market, we’re doing smaller projects. So a project, my shortest project, there was a month long project, so every single project was different. I can talk about, so I did a couple of projects in the auto sector and that I can talk about because it was cross clients, but ultimately what we’re doing there is China is now, I think the largest, if not the second largest, I think it’s the largest car buyer’s market in the world. And so all of the international brands obviously are figuring out how they can sell cars in China. But the Chinese market is also a really complicated one that’s also highly regulated.
So in cities like Beijing, there’s license plate laws where only certain license plates can be on the road on certain days. And the goals of those laws are great there to reduce pollution and emissions and so on. But it’s just a very complex landscape. And also the Chinese consumer’s behavior is different than other markets. And so one of the kind of key projects that we were working on consistently was figuring out that there is this need amongst, or this desire amongst the Chinese consumer to have a more online digital process when buying a luxury car. Yet these very traditional European brands wanted to protect the feeling of luxury around their brand. And so how do you balance that customer journey in terms of protecting your brand but also meeting the customer where they want to be met? That was really interesting. The other one that’s actually, it’s public information.
And that was my final project with PWC was a project with Alibaba and it was all about how do you leverage blockchain technology to increase transparency in the supply chain from especially sensitive goods that are coming from abroad into China. So things like milk powder, things like vitamins, things that looks like meats. And that was, that was a great, that was kind of a mic drop moment to leave my consulting career on there. There’s no way I was going to get better than that. So that’s a soft pitch too. You’re in your, you get the China, you’re working with fortune 500 customers. This is your dream job. Definitely. Right? I mean, I don’t know how much better it gets. Yeah. And then something happens and you freaking decide to leave your dream job. Yeah. How does that happen? How does it happen? So the way that it happened was, like you said, I was super happy and I really, I saw very clear career path for myself there.
But ultimately kind of the, there were two things that happened the course of a couple of months, but then they reflecting on them, I realized that they happened every couple of months throughout my entire five-year career at that point, which one was over the summer. I was applying for this opportunity that is um, it’s called global shapers and it’s through the world economic forum and basically it’s this community of rising leaders who helped to inform where the world economic forum should focus their energies and you do it outside of work. It’s a great network of individuals ultimately would have been a great, if I had been accepted and gone through with it, it would’ve been a great thing for PWC because obviously we’re now networking with potential clients and then you’re getting the PWC name into this organization and in applying for that, I was still sending my mom and my sister my resume and I was like, what is going on?
And they have no idea what I was applying for. And then a couple months later I was going up for promotion and to be a manager and I was definitely on the junior side, especially in terms of my age, but I had just sold my first piece of work, which in most consulting firms you don’t do until you’re like director level. And so I felt like I had a pretty strong case, but I also knew I really had to prepare and be really strategic and the conversations that I was having. And again, in that moment, I remember sitting on my bed on a Sunday on the phone with my mom and then my sister and being like, this is not, I’m not getting the right advice that I need right now. My mom always will think I deserve the promotion no matter what. So there’s a gap in objectivity and my sister smarter she is and luckily is I’m lucky to have her because she’s also working professionals isn’t in my industry and has no idea of the context of management consulting and what that career path looks like.
And that’s really like was incredibly frustrating for something that was so important in, in kind of my longterm career and my life. And that’s really what planted the seed for what if you had this platform where you could connect to the right person at the right time to get the insight that you need to move one step further in your career. And I was starting to see that behavior kind of happen in a Hackett way on LinkedIn. We’re always stalking on LinkedIn and trying to reach out and get a 30 minute informational or get a 30 minute coffee. But it’s ultimately it’s dependent on your personal network. Not everyone responds. There’s like we have the same, that’s a slow to know response rate. And even if you do get the coffee or the phone call, and I’ve been on both sides of these conversations, it’s very limited and impact.
It’s this high level formal conversation where you’re just kinda like telling your story and then the person might ask one or two questions at the end and then it’s over and you say thank you and that’s it. And so that was really the, the seed that was planted. But what it took, there was still another six months between that seed being planted and me quitting my job, which I’m happy to share, but let’s hold that thought cause I want to say two things that I think are really important that you touched on, which is I call these things in life, pivotal moments. And you’ve effectively had a pivotal moment. And I can’t tell people how to manufacture that because it’s never been manufactured for me. But what I do teach people is how to recognize that. And you recognize that at that moment. And when you recognize it at that moment, you’ve got to lean into it.
So, and I think people have pivotal moments more than they think. Mm. But they don’t, they haven’t, they’re not recognizing it or they’re ignoring it because they’re scared, which we’re all scared. Right? I mean, tell me, you were probably pretty scared, right? I’m giving it, I’m still scared. So there we go. That’s the other myth. But I want to touch on the pivotal moment is important. Uh, the second thing is context. So we have these people in our lives and I’ll say you had your mom and your sister who, like you said there always going to think. Your mom’s always going to think you needed a promotion. That’s just right. You’re your mom, your dad, your family, you’re right. Like of course you do, but and you recognizing that is really important and your sister who is really smart and successful but understanding the context and I think that’s what we as entrepreneurs or even if you’re not an entrepreneur just in life, mentors and people we look up to are going to give you advice if you ask for it.
But it’s important to understand the lens of which they are giving you that advice for you to decide whether to take it or not. And I think sometimes entrepreneurs say, well that person, there’s this successful person and they did it and that’s what they said to do, so I’m going to do it. I think you absolutely should value that past experience. Having said that, I think it’s yeah, us as individuals to do the diligence to understand the context and that’s exactly what you did because if you had taken, there’s two people in your life who you probably trust more than anyone. I don’t know if you have a partner shot, not beating up on them, but let’s just, you know, you trust them more than anyone. You were taking the advice, you’d still be at PWC in China. Yeah. And you seem very happy here.
I’ve talked. Of course you’re happy, right? Like who knows what would have happened. Yeah, well in other ways I also would argue that potentially if I had, in a lot of ways I did take their advice and I actually is what led me to leave because what happened was I didn’t get the promotion and it was a ton of back and forth where they said you didn’t get it. Then they said you did get it, and then I said, actually he didn’t get it. So there was a lot of back and forth, but that’s really now in us working with companies where like, Hey, empower your people. Because when they feel empowered and they feel they have the resources to be supported in that next step, that’s what’s going to drive loyalty and that’s what’s going to drive them feeling great at work. And honestly, if I had gotten the promotion, I probably would still be at PWC and, and TBD if that was the right choice or not.
I think in this case, I’m very happy with what I’m building today and what we’ve accomplished so far. But I think that that’s a point that we now touch on is my story comes up in a lot of the conversations we’re having with companies about how can you actually empower your top talent that are the people who are thinking very thoughtfully about that next step and who are also preparing and putting in the work to make sure that they’re, that they’re accurately, you know, that they’re putting their best foot forward. And, and how do you invest in those people? So basically in the six months that you alluded to earlier, they went back and forth with you. So they say, Hey Courtney, you got the promotion and now you’re on top of the world. And then the next day, that next day, obviously it’s over six months.
They say no, is that how, no, not quite. So it’s, I mean there’s a lot of politics to consulting, but first it was on the kind of team wide call. They announced too about the promotions. I was on the list. So then I was like, okay to get it actually felt okay because I knew I was early and I was like next year. Then I think they, my mentor at the company had a one on one with me and I was like to be Frank and disappointed, I had sold a piece of work so and so and so and, and then I guess that got back to the partner and then the partner said, actually we’re looking into this. It might’ve been a mistake, let me, you might’ve gotten it. And I was like, what is going on? And then he’s at, actually it didn’t happen this year, let’s wait until next year.
And so it was a ton of, and it was really, it was, it was that night that seed had been planted, but it was the night that I found out actually in the end I didn’t get it. And after all this back and forth that I remember I left work on the earlier side, I think it was 6:00 PM I went home and I was like, I’m just gonna. I think I had wine with my roommate and then I tried to go to sleep early and then I didn’t, I didn’t sleep a wink that night. Instead I have this notepad next to my bed and I literally sketched out, I would love to open it now like what I would call the pitch deck for the lighthouse.
So you built your business plan on a piece of paper next to your nightstand?
Yup. I wish I kept that piece of paper. I don’t think I did.
You didn’t keep it. That’s like the, that’s the thing you have to frame.
Well, I’m a consultant. I immediately put into PowerPoint the next day.
Well you got that original PowerPoint, that’s awesome. And you basically stay up all night. You, you sketch out this plan business plan effectively, right. And do you walk in the next day and quit?
No, definitely not. So I think that this is wonderful advice I give to a lot of peoples. Just when you have ideas, not the time to quit, like you, there’s a ton more work that needs to happen before you quit. A validation of, you know, at this point it was a use case of one. And I had, I had a pretty strong inkling like I had seen the way my friends were operating and I had seen the way people were reaching out to me on LinkedIn. So I’ve been noticing behaviors that were shared beyond myself, but I needed to validate that. And so basically for, and I also, I was still working on that incredible Alibaba project that it was very much excited by. So what I did was I definitely, before this I was 150% in PDC mode. After this I worked a more appropriate amount on PWC and then my lunch breaks after hours, my weekends were spent on the lighthouse.
And what I did is a lot of conversations with friends, with peers of how do you handle your career right now? What are the solutions you’re using? Are you also like me going into your mom and your sister and your boyfriend and your are those the people you’re going to and validated that? Yes, that is the number one answer for who people are going to for career advice or Google and then also validated like started to see this from a more of a macro trend perspective of LinkedIn had just launched this thing called career connect which was like they’re trying to connect people that can give advice but it hasn’t really taken off the muse which is another career platform. It just launched this coaching platform where you could book time with the traditional career coach and then I was reading reports on, okay, the world of work is changing.
We’re navigating a lot more change. There needs to be new solutions to help drive your career forward. That meets the, again the consumer, like our us millennials, where we want to be met and also that meets the new face of work, which is working across industries, across roles, across companies and across geographies. So that’s what went on for a couple of months of a lot of research and conversations and insights gathering. And then over, I had a bunch of vacation days that I hadn’t used and over the kind of December I took them all in one, I think I took like three weeks off. It was, it was a lot and but luckily I worked with some Europeans so that was fine. They understood, they were like, Oh you just want to go home with your family. I was like, yup. And then I went home to the U S and I led a proof of concept where I put up a landing page posted on my Instagram like, Hey, he wants to be part of this. And through that got our first paying customers and that to me is what validated. Okay, there’s something here. There’s something people will pay for. I think like our revenue there was small, it was like not much, not nothing to write home about, but people would pay it. And that’s, that was enough for me. And then I went back to China, I wrapped up that project and I put in my notice and then founded the light house in April of 2018
no, that’s awesome. So I’m going to step back. Just to recap. You, you get an idea, well you don’t get the promotion. You go home, you drink a bunch of wine, which in theory should really put you to sleep, but it doesn’t because you’re excited or you’re angry or a lot of things probably disappointed too, but probably angry at some level. You sketch out this business plan and you don’t quit your job right away. Which is key. Cause I mean a lot of entrepreneurs who, I got the idea I’m going to quit. And there’s this somewhat, I mean Courtney, you can tell me, don’t you think there’s some sort of thing like in online world where it’s this badge of honor to go all in and quit your job? I think that’s just stupid.
I mean it’s like, yeah, I think it’s, I also think it’s really difficult for a lot of people who don’t have the finances to support that of like how do you just quit your job? I don’t know. There’s a lot of planning that had to go into it.
I just think there’s this online thing going around like, Hey, if you really do it, get an idea and do that and I think you’re right. Your story is really an example that people should follow, which is yeah, you stay up all night, you’ve got a pad of paper next to your bed, you build this business plan and then effectively what I say is you did not have a business. You had a project that was a side hustle.
Would that be fair to say? Yeah, and actually you even saying that makes me remember something that I’d forgotten, which is at this point I, one of the other things I was thinking about after not getting the promotion was business school, but I was, I had taken a pretty significant pay cut to move to China in China. The salaries are nowhere near what they are on the U S for consultants. And so I was really worried about like, how am I going to finance this? Is this going to be worth it? So on. And uh, when I first thought of the lighthouse at this project phase, I was like, Oh, this will be a side project that helps to fund part of business school, or at least my lifestyle. And then actually I completely forgot about this over the Chris, that three week break. Another thing I did was I flew to California and I sat in on a class at Stanford business school and you could choose between four options.
And I chose the entrepreneurship class and I sat in the, and the next day I had a meeting scheduled for the lighthouse. It was some like informational with it. Someone at UCLA, I don’t even know what it was, but in the class I found myself completely disengaged, which is not normal. I love, I love school, I love reading. I like, so the fact that my whole energy was on preparing for the meeting next day rather than learning from this incredible professor, I immediately was like, okay, there’s something here. Like my energy is on building right now, not on like sitting in a classroom.
Well I think that’s, it takes a lot of self awareness and you’ve, you shown that and I think people have listen to that voice inside and I don’t think enough people do listen to that voice quite frankly. I think they are scared by it. And you and I are both always, I mean people who say they’re not scared I think are psychos. Like I’ve been scared of every single one in my company. I have always been scared. I’ve been scared when it’s been going really bad, of course, but not been scared when it’s been going really good too. So that’s awesome. That was really the reinforcing thing for you. I think the other thing I just want to emphasize to people is, is that you can you tell me if I’m wrong, but you have the idea, you do business plan that is effectively your straw man or your original business plan and your values. You start a free website on Wix. Is that right?
Uh, it might’ve, I think Wix. It’s cheap. I think you might pay like 15 bucks a month. It’s something very doable.
Yeah, I mean like three coffees at Starbucks, right? I mean you don’t have a business, you don’t have even a way to fulfill and you put up the idea, you use your own list. I’m a big email. Like I think everybody should have email list. I think it will eventually go to text. But you use your Instagram friends, which how many on Atlanta have a following? I think hopefully I have more friends than I get then. Well, I just think it’s important. Like I’m guessing that if you’re like normal person, it’s not like you have 1 million followers.
I have 482 followers
and you probably didn’t have that many back then. Or do you think that that was around 400
probably like a few last, but yeah, I actually, I deleted Instagram so I had to access it from my URL just now.
Okay. So yeah, that’s for sure. I think we all admit that. So you have 482 followers. You advertise basically by putting, I assume a poster or a story or something like that out there a post, you drive them to your one page $15 website and you test the idea and you get customers. And at that point I would argue as long as you have. How many do you think you had at that point? I mean was it wa it wasn’t one, it was obviously a handful.
Yeah. So it was actually interesting that Instagram post was, we started off as this two sided marketplace of we have people on the platform giving advice and getting advice and I had to prove two things I to prove that people would pay for this kind of one-on-one, like high touch, kind of like coaching, but from someone who’s actually been through it rather than a traditional career coach. And then I had to prove that really incredible people with great backgrounds would be interested in being part of this. And so with the Instagram posts I was at that point recruiting for, well we used to call it insiders, the people giving advice and I think we had like 50 applications in and I post on Facebook, which I probably have some more friends on Facebook. We have 50 applications in like three days to be on the giving side of things. And these were people who work at Google who were like getting MBAs at Berkeley, like really incredible high. And so that that’s what proved. And then our paying customers honestly came through. Those were completely word of mouth at the beginning of like, Hey you have a friend applying to something or like Hey you have someone navigating something or Hey you’re applying to get your MBA and you’ve never done like you have no one in your family who got their MBA. Like use the lighthouse.
So that’s awesome. So now you’ve got validation and you, you don’t have product market fit, which we are going to talk to about your story in a minute of of how that evolved. But at that point, that’s when I tell people, and I would argue that your project, it just turned into a potentially a potential business. Yeah. It’s not the business. I think that’s what some entrepreneurs, but I want to say that getting someone to pay like you did, and you’ve said this several times and I think it’s important is, is that if you go to your friends and you’re like, Hey, I got, Hey Courtney, I got this, this new mug. [inaudible] it keeps your stuff cold or hot forever, right? Will you buy it? And you say, yeah, I get 20 friends. That doesn’t count until I tell people get it down a deposit or charge them up front. Like, Hey, I’m going to order it. Give me 1995 would you, would you agree? I mean in your, you’re a consultant, so you’ve worked with these businesses that, I mean, that’s the truth.
Yeah. And I think even beyond the people that you know, that was cool is, is also seeing people that don’t know you personally. Cause some people, I think it’s really easy for founders to get, you can get pretty far with your direct network of like, you know, if you’re selling mugs you can definitely get your, your best, your closest 50 friends to buy it. But how do you validate the market beyond that? And so I’m a big believer in like as early as possible, getting strangers to buy it or people that have no personal connection to you and your success who are just acting based on the value of what you’ve created.
I think that’s important because your friends as, as we talked about earlier in the story with your mom and your sister, always gonna say that. I think my network of friends is a bunch of type a maniacs from business school. Not that basically tell me, Brandon, you’re absolutely insane. I would never pay for that sometimes. But uh, but I think the stranger thing is the real test. So let’s, let’s, you make this Instagram and Facebook posts. You get people to pay you. You did three week vacation
that your European friends thought was normal, but your Boston, your rear, we should all learn from them because they have it right. I think they do the well. I think I’d say, I don’t want to say absolutely. I think it’s an interesting model as long as you’re working during the time that you are working, right? Yeah. Actually I think Australia has really nailed it. I did. I took two business trips to Australia and I feel when you were in the office, they were there from eight to six or whatever the hours were and you could totally, it was the same energy and dynamic that you feel in New York city of like incredible focus, incredible devotion, kind of type a craziness. But then at lunch people took their lunch or they went for a run outside and then at six or six 30 people really left and it wasn’t the mindset in New York of like, Oh, I have to get to this thing or pick up my kids.
It was like, I’m going to go now to spend time with people that you know, don’t send to this room. That’s awesome. I think that’s it. I think we all need to aspire to do that. And I tell entrepreneurs, if you think that you’re going to catch up and you think zero inbox is a real thing and you think you’re absolutely delusional, and I get to say this, after 21 years, you have to be willing to basically just get up in the middle of anything. And I learned that and you probably, obviously I’ve started to learn that is, you know, sometimes I catch myself, I’m down here, right here and it’s seven 45 and my wife walks in. I might hold, I realized like, Oh crap, I really have not talked to my wife today and no, I can’t comment on other people’s relationships, but I love my wife.
So I want to spend time with her. And I have trained myself that even unless it is like, Oh my God, I’m not going to get paid. And it’s so many invoice that’s, you know, a hundred thousand dollars something. Just absolutely. The world’s going to end. Yeah. Even if I’m in an email, in the middle of email, someone I just stand up and walk away. Yeah, and that sounds like you know almost what Australia and it sounds like something that you’ve adopted here. I’ve tried. I think it’s really tough and it’s something that’s always, I think it’s honestly hardest when you work with in someone else’s company culture. I think that the very cool thing about starting your own companies, you get to create a culture and create what you think is productivity, what productivity looks like and what success looks like and all of that.
I think it’s much harder when you’re working within another company culture, especially if you’re on the junior at the junior level. If that’s not respected, it’s really hard for you to leave at seven and go get dinner with your friends or family. And there’s also this weird element of bag when you tag the wife or husband labeled it, it seems more serious and the boyfriend or girlfriend, but I know there’s, I think it’s a lot tougher for people that are working in companies that have a culture that’s already been assigned to it, that might not align with their personal values. Yeah, I think you’re for sure.
I think you and I probably could talk about all this forever, but what I want to come back to is you go in, you gave your notice and you start lighthouse and, and you start with the idea that it sounds like to me that you’re going to do a B to C play and, and so let’s start there. Is that, that, was that really the original idea and then take us through that story cause you and I talked a little bit before, but the listeners haven’t been able to understand this sort of all these pivotal moments.
Yeah. So you’re exactly right. We started thinking it would be a direct to consumer brand and that’s what it was for almost a year, which is the concept was really okay, people are willing to invest in their career growth. We will be that resource for them to go to whenever they’re looking for insight or support. And so because it was B to C, a lot of our, a lot of our market, a lot of our members were people that are navigating career transitions, so they were working in consulting and wanted to transition to something entirely different or they were applying to business school and didn’t want to pay the crazy fees that most MBA consultants charge or they were really curious about UX, but they had no idea what UX actually meant. And so it was a lot of those types of people who were choosing to invest in making that transition in a strategic and thoughtful and a really the smart way.
And they were booking sessions around anything from what we called industry Q and a learning about a new industry to resume review to interview practice. Sometimes we started to see people use it around skill building, so members saying like, Hey, I think I want to get my project management professional certificate and then booking sessions around that. So that business ultimately the C business did a couple of things for us. It, we used all of that data on how people were using the product, what their pain points were, what kind of people they want to book sessions with to really start to productize a lot of what we had built so early. The entry point for all of our members is what we call the career quiz and that’s where they specify what their goal is, what their challenges and what kind of person they want to work with.
So they might say like, Hey, I’m asking for a raise at work. I am struggling with creating like a strong business case around it. And I work in management consulting at a big company and so I wanted to be matched with someone who has that context. And then based on that, our algorithm then matches them with their top three fit and they get to review their profiles and decide who they want to work with and then book a one-on-one 45 minute video session with that person. And after the session they can book again or if their needs change, they can book with someone else. And so that career quiz in the early days was completely free form. People were just like writing in what they needed. And now over time we know what those drop-downs look like because we’ve collected it from real data. Um, so that was one thing that the BDC business is great for.
The other thing is it validated that what we built people loved and it worked. So we collected, we have incredibly high net promoter score. We collected great data around how impactful the actual sessions were and how it offered something completely different than other solutions like online learning or like talking to your mom or like going on LinkedIn. And so we kind of created something that people loved. And in that we started realizing that two things. One is that I’m a big believer that we are moving in a direction where people are going to be owning and managing their own careers where you know, everyone talks about the future of work. We have no idea what that looks like, but ultimately if you’re working on a project basis or you’re working across company, across industry, across role, you’re going to have to be in charge of that development.
And that development is not going to align to a specific career path in one role at one company. Yet where we are today is I think people still expect that kind of professional development to be sponsored by their companies. So that was like one learning for us. And then second learning was that there, there’s actually a huge, like an increasing need amongst companies to find new ways to invest in their millennial talent. And they were reacting to the fact that career growth and career development was now one of the top reasons that drives where millennials choose to work. And w when millennials choose to leave a company. And so that’s when we started actually talking to businesses about offering this as an employee benefit to their team.
So it’s important. I think that’s interesting. So with the millennial generation, it’s important that when they come to the job that an employer would articulate, Hey Courtney, you’re going to come in here and here’s what the process of career development looks like. And here are some of the milestones and goals that I think some of the companies already have this, right? I mean when I was in the venture business [inaudible] you understand that you start as analysts, I mean depending on all of these titles, right? But analyst, senior analyst, associate, senior associate principal and then partner. And in the consulting world that you work, it’s defined and, and as you know, I heard you earlier when you went and talked to the partner like, Hey, I landed business. That was probably articulated to you that if you land business you can, it can go further. So I think anybody who has a business event, I fell entrepreneurs that listen to this podcast, it’s a lesson that they can take from what you’ve learned, which is you’ve got to articulate that. But having said that, that’s easy to say, but if service, like they need a service like you have our offering because otherwise you have to build the whole infrastructure. But before I sort of go there with you, you’re in the BTC, you’re learning really quick. Yeah.
The other like a big message that we try to hone in on is the fact that career growth is more than, than getting to next level of getting that promotion or getting a raised or getting a new job. And that’s how it’s often thought of these days. But ultimately the way the highest performers, most kind of the people that are most devoted to their growth are thinking about career growth and entirely new way, which is not just getting to the next level. It’s learning a new skill. It’s developing a new, it’s learning about a new industry or learning about a new role. And so it’s actually a lot more flexible. And a lot more driven by the individual. And that’s really where we are kind of uniquely positioned to support that kind of career growth. And it’s good for the individual to be like, okay, I’m growing even though I’m not necessarily getting promoted this year, but there’s other ways to grow and there’s other ways to kind of seize this opportunity beyond like getting a new label on my LinkedIn.
I think that’s important. I’m glad you interrupted me because I probably, I’m not that much older, but I probably just showed my age that uh, yeah. And I’m just thinking while you’re saying that I have a lot of millennials who have worked for me and that really is it. Like if you can teach people, and I don’t really, you know, I think this whole millennial thing everybody talks about Manas. I just think people in general probably, I mean, would you agree Courtney? Like
a hundred percent it’s the new way of working. I think millennials, I honestly, I don’t love that term either. Like when we’re talking to our members, we talk about them and to them as like rising, rising future leaders or mid-career professionals. But millennials, the term that I think resonates most most just with kind of investors cause that’s, they hear millennial, they hear market. Um, and so that’s it depending on the conversation and use the different term. But you’re right, it’s, it’s cross generation. And we’ve already, I just pitched potential investors who are kind of in their sixties and they’re like, listen, I want this because I’m starting my, my new career, which might be it completely different from what I did my entire career. And so yeah, I really see this growth. We’re starting with millennial demographic because that’s where the biggest need is and the biggest demand is. But I completely agree with you that as work changes, this is going to be something that’s needed across all generations.
So I want to point out one thing that you’ve said here, but I think is important. You know, we use this millennial word because of what you just said, is that your investors, if you’re going to pitch, they want to hear the millennial because it’s the magic word. Yeah. But, and I think that’s important for entrepreneurs to understand that you’re pitching a different audience. You have to, you have to know what vernacular used. I think the reason it sort of hit me a little bit is, is I’m thinking like we’re just human. This is a human, all humans want to feel, they want to feel appreciated and they want to learn new things and not just, I don’t know, it’d be in this cube or box and
hamster wheel, whatever you want to call it, and not happy, at least have the ability to learn new things. And I would argue that companies like Google, who, you know, some people, Google is sorta new, but Google has been around forever. I mean it is a long time. Google has been around and they recognize that from the early days with their 15% or whatever it is. So, and that wasn’t a millennial thing because the millennials I think were potentially still in diapers when Google came around. But, um, so I, I point that out. I think it’s also important point to recognize that when you talk to different audiences in your business, you need to understand the monocular that’s going to resonate with them. [inaudible] that comes from understanding their world.
Just thinking that you’re going to show your idea, but also talking about it. So, so let’s pick up, you’re learning all this stuff. You’re still in the BDC world.
So we’re still in the B to C world. We kind of recognize these two insights of people expect this kind of growth to be sponsored by their companies and companies. This is a need for companies. And I remember one, one potential investor said to me, she was like, you need to figure out how you can be an ongoing painkiller. So the story behind that is when you have a headache, you pay for, for Advil because you’re solving a pain in the moment. And you need that when you, we all know we should take vitamins. I personally bought vitamin D for the first time yesterday, I’d never take vitamins and it’s more preventative, right? And the people people pay for for problem solving. So when she framed it that way of like, you know, for your B to C customers, you are, you’re a pain medication the moment.
But that means that you need to catch them at the right time. And that’s really difficult. So figure out who you can be an ongoing painkiller for. And that was again, a comment that was said in a meeting right around the time that we were starting to kind of think about these two new insights. And that’s when we realized that for the companies, you know, for one person you might need, you always need the lighthouse as a preventative measure. But in those painkilling moments, it might happen, you know, between six and eight times a year. But for a company that has a hundred thousand employees, you know, different when people are having that at different points. And so for them this is an ongoing pain point. And also just investing in your people and being proactive about that and showing them that you care and that you’re, you’re giving them the resources to grow is, is a constant challenge for that. And so all of those three things kind of clicked at once. And that’s when we started going out to companies and really framed it as very informational. Like it was a lot of, Hey, do you guys know anyone in HR? Can I, can I talk to the person in HR at your company? And some of those earliest conversations that were purely informational turned into our early B2B partners, which was really cool to see that happen.
Well, I want to tell the listeners that I did not pay Courtney for this or set this up, but Courtney, I teach all the time in the early part of building your business plan, you have to understand if you’re a vitamin or an aspirin and that’s what you just described. And if you, it’s not because one is good or bad, right? I mean you just bought, right? I mean you just took B, you just bought B12 as a preventative. Not because it was, you know, you didn’t take Advil for that. But so I think that’s an important lesson. So this, this one comment that an investor gives you sparks this idea and then you just floated the idea through your network of corporate.
Yeah. Not even like one of our now corporate partners. I had a friend who is also a founder of a company that he was working on the side who, who is a lead software engineer, that company. And so when I was floating around like, Hey, can I talk to anyone who works in this world? He had been kind of friendly with the person who was on their HR team. And so he connected us over email. I went into their office, we talked for an hour. I mean people are really interested when they feel like they can kind of shape where a young company is going. That’s super fascinating. And also people love talking about interesting new ideas and, and we fell into that bucket. And so we found that people were incredibly supportive and giving us their time and their insight. And yeah, a lot of the conversations happen that way of like, can I just talk to anyone in HR?
Because at that point we thought that that was going to be the group that we really need to validate this with and then we started like I am an avid note taker. I also, when they allowed it were to record some of the conversations and then started to, one question I always asked was, Hey, I’ve told you the story. I’ve told you what we think this is. Can you read, pitch it to me? And then I would see here the words that they use in that pitch and then I immediately started adding that to my pitch and the next conversation and I still got sometimes like in our sales conversation, I still will do that to this day because it’s constantly evolving to hear what’s resonating and even if we’re not using it for our pitch, we’re hearing what to them is the most valuable part of what we’re solving for, which we can then use in that followup sales conversation or it’s just good insight for us to know.
Yeah. I think that technique is an amazing technique and I, I, I don’t think you should ever stop using it. And I think everybody should do that. [inaudible] for our listeners, if you were paying attention to the podcasts that I run, I do that all the time. I’ve done that with you and we’re here, we’re here and here and then you say, instantly know, Brandon, you forgot this or that and now you get that other party to talk. So the other part of that, which I think people miss is they get excited that they’ve actually done that, but they forget the write the freaking words down.
that is the magic, isn’t it Courtney?
Yeah. Messaging. I have such an appreciation now for writing, positioning, all of that. That’s, it’s so hard speaking and writing is hard, but it’s so important. Yeah. And it’s constantly changing. I think I have a whole like page document of different ways to describe the light house. And do you think it’s important to describe that light, the lighthouse? Two different audiences using different words. Yeah, a hundred percent. Whether, where targeting on the phone with someone from HR, whether sometimes our lead in to companies is the head of diversity inclusion and obviously that’s a very different conversation, but they care about different things. But for them what they’re really interested in is how the lighthouse is a way for people to level the playing field. So when you think about the fact that people are going to their direct network for this kind of career insight, that means that your employees are not on the same level like level playing field.
So the person who is going home to a partner who also is working in the field, and maybe it’s one step ahead of them is getting much better advice and insight than the person who’s going home and maybe has a partner who’s a stay at home parent or a partner who works in the medical field and has nothing to do with what you’re working on. So that conversation is very different with when we’re kind of selling to that part of the offering. And then as we touched on earlier, talking to investors is completely different than talking to our customers. Like actual lighthouse members. Then when we’re talking to the companies that are actually sponsoring this, so we’re still in the beta sheet. Take us through when, when do you decide, because there’s some time when you say we just see you and I have talked before, you know, B to C isn’t going to work.
We’re going to go B to B big jump and probably wow. Not probably pretty stinking scary because almost effectively you have to fire people, our customers that are giving you revenue. Yeah. And we didn’t actually do that. Uh, we still have BDC customers because our tech evolves and they actually can now basically self service on the platform. So luckily we didn’t have to reject anyone. What we do now, which I wish we could do everything at once, I like is when B to C members come to our page. We do kind of put them on a wait list and we’ll look at the companies that they’re coming from and see if we can actually introduce lighthouse into that company so that they’re getting it sponsored by their company, which is an incredible thing. But we didn’t have to fire any customers because they were already onboard onto the platform and could kind of just book sessions when they needed.
But it was a really scary thing and there’s no like specific date that had happened. It was kind of an ongoing process where we started to make that decision in January of 2019 and that’s when we started to validate it and had a lot of conversations that happened over the course of a couple of months. And then I would say we officially launched the offering at the beginning of this summer, which isn’t always the best time to launch an offering because some are slow. But despite kind of summer slowdown, we were able to get our first B to B partners and now are really focused on how do we now replicate that sales process too to bring on more partners.
So tell us about the lighthouse. Now you’ve raise some angel money. Cause I know my friend Joe won’t mind me saying that. Uh, he invested, he, he has encouraged me to do the same, which you and I talked about. We’re going to follow up. I want to make sure that we had a podcast and that I was completely, I am not an investor. I have no interest yet, but I am, I love the model of what you’re doing. And I think that people need that inner direction. It within a big companies. I think they need them in smaller entrepreneur or startups or, I hate that word, startups sometimes, but, uh, just early stage companies that are growing or expanding, even midsize companies need that. I think that in the smaller teams you actually get that because you’re interacting, you know, under a hundred people, you know, those hundred people and certainly under 50, I know that when I worked at America online, something like this would have been, would have been an incredible, but how you raised some money, would you, it’s really seed or friends and family money, would you say?
Yeah. Um, just really quick thing on the small company versus big, we’re like even our early partners, it’s interesting to see the different buckets they fall into the, at the smaller company, what’s interesting is that you’re, the resources you can tap into are kind of limited to that direct group and no company, no matter how big or small has every, every insight, every experience or background that’s needed depending on where people want to drive their career. And also when companies are introducing new offerings, especially at startup stage, then you definitely don’t have that expertise internally. So that’s an area where we serve as compliment and also the fact that the objectivity is something that you can never replace. And often the smaller company you have even less of that because like you said, you do know everyone by name but on the fundraising side. So yeah, like you said, we’ve raised 180 K so far. Um, and that kind of fell into two separate rounds. One was a friends and family round that we did last September. And then the one that we’re kind of in the middle of right now is a pre seed round. We’re focused entirely on angel investors like you said. So yeah, that’s our fundraising story.
And one thing I want to, you and I talked about this the other day when when we talked, because my first question to entrepreneurs that I always help is uh, what’s your burn rate? And they always say, well what does that have to do with anything? Brandon, I came here for advice and I want to build my company. And I said, well your burn rate’s going to turn, turn, run. Actually when you can jump ship. And I had asked you the other day when you said, Hey, I raised 180 80 grand, which is a huge accomplishment. I mean, raising money from other people is, is hard regardless of how much it is hard. You’re convincing someone that before you have a ton of revenue that you’re going to able to turn this into a viable company. Is it fair to say or maybe tell us how you thought about it when back, going back, you took those you six months prior to leaving. When you drink the wine and build your business plan, you have an idea that you’re going to leave at some point. So were you just a naturally good saver or at that point did you start socking away some money knowing that you wanted to build? At least I tell people if you don’t have a year.
Yeah, great question. So again, some thing that’s unique about me is the fact that I, I thought they investment. So being a founder in a lot of ways is an investment in your career, right? You’re taking a huge bet on it yourself. And these are years spent clearly like I see the opportunity for the lighthouse being bigger than any salary. It could be making a PWC right now and that’s a bet that you’re making on yourself and on your career. I never, I didn’t think that this was going to be in my path. I would have approached my career a little bit differently if I had to be honest. Because, well, I say that, but I don’t really mean it. I’ll, I’ll kind of like a roundabout way, but I mean is that, so, you know, working for PWC in New York you make a good amount of money and your expenses are pretty low because you’re on the road Monday through Thursday. Honestly, no consultants should have an apartment. I wish I just Airbnb it every weekend. But that’s a separate story. But so you, you know, you’re, you’re saving at that point. But then when I went to China, that was, to me the big investment I was making, my career, which I took, it was over 50%
I would think that they pay you more as an ex Pat going away. But I understand the revenue is less so they don’t really justify it that way, which is,
yeah, expat days are kind of gone. And China, there’s just, and this is fair, like it’s incredibly competitive talent pool of local Chinese that are amazing like that truly fluently. Both languages that have been educated abroad are at incredible universities in China. It’s just very competitive. And also keep in mind, I wasn’t a partner going over there. I was a senior associate, so I was again still pretty junior in my career. Right? So I took a pretty big pay cut and I was a thing that I thought a lot about, but ultimately I knew that because it was this new market, because even consulting was kind of the nascent in China that I would be given a ton of opportunity and that that would be worth it for when the salary I’d be making when I came back to America, whether with PWC or something else, the experience that I had gotten there and also my personal goal working and living there was going to be worth it.
Obviously I didn’t, that’s not the path I took of going to China, taking this pay cut and then coming back to the U S with a high salary. That’s not what happened in my case, but it is something to factor in. And from April of 2018 to September of 2018 that runway was all, you know, my savings and the way that I made that last as long as I did is by moving. When I moved back to the U S I moved in with my dad, which is when you’re 27 like I’m so lucky that that was an option on the table. And also I’m lucky that my dad happened to live close to New York city. So you know, you have to be in the market and think it’s really hard if you’re, if you’re from the Midwest and you’re trying to build a company in New York, it’s really difficult.
So that’s complete like luck and privilege that he has, you know, lives in the area. And I was able to live with him for free and yeah, just like really cutting back and saying no to friends and keep in mind I’d been gone and then I was back, but I wasn’t available because I didn’t have any money to spend and I was living outside of the city and I was working a lot. And so it becomes this combination of like seeing the options you have available to you, seeing how long your run by is and saying no, a lot of friends.
I think that’s important. I think they, you know, I, I have these slides when I give talks is, you know, they think the entrepreneur lifestyle is this party lifestyle and they got all this stuff on social media with, I don’t even have these people must pay by the hour to rent the jet to take their picture. But, uh, I would consider myself generally pretty successful and you know, I’m not doing that sort of stuff. So, you know, it’s important to say to know that when you’re doing this you are going to sacrifice. I mean, you’re taking probably not one step. You’re taking two steps backwards to ultimately get five or 10 ahead at some point. Right. That’s the bet.
Yeah. I heard on an interview or read an article somewhere that there’s like a psychology like game where basically you can decide they gave you the two kids and that you can and decide if you want a candy bar now or two candy bars in an hour. And I think the conclusion was that the kids that take the candy bars in and out, two candy bars in an hour are more likely to become entrepreneurs because they’re in it for the long run. Right.
I saw that too. It was a salt with a marshmallow and I watched the video. You’re probably, it’s been redone. So the candy bar, but the interesting part was when you watch, I don’t know if you watch it, if you watch the video, these count, all the kids are just, they’re just like suffering and they’ll, I want to pick up my phone, but like I have this remote for my, uh, pretend my remote for my video, for my cam is a marshmallow and they’ll pick it up. Then they’ll look at it and you can just see on just dying. So I think that’s really, that’s really what we’re doing and I think revealing that and I’m really grateful for you doing that because you’ve been really vulnerable here to share. You know, it takes a lot of courage to be able to do that cause a lot of people don’t want to put on that face.
And I got pictures even after I sold my first company. I’ve got pictures of me sleeping in a sleeping bag on her friends for in San Francisco. Like that’s just what you do. I mean it’s not glamorous but it didn’t mean that I didn’t have some money that I couldn’t get an Airbnb meant that I every night that I didn’t do that. Like when you moved in with your dad was to me one more day that I had bought myself a hundred percent and it’s not going to go as planned. I mean we didn’t cover it and I’m going to ask you back at some point getting updated. Maybe we can go back and talk about every bump, you know, some more bumps in the road. But I mean, would you agree it does not go as planned. I mean, yeah and it costs more than you thought it would
and it takes a lot more time. I think one of the things that’s frustrating about this process, as you see, you see the headlines and you listen to podcasts that aren’t as like raw as this one and you think it just happened over night, but then you actually, even if you like a little trick, I don’t know if they’ll, the company will say it’s founded in 2019 but then when you look at the founders LinkedIn, you notice that they left their job in 2017 so that means that like many of us from 2017 to 2019 they were just figuring it out and then they pivoted enough that they could say it. Their new launch date was 2019 but there was a ton of work and a ton of like anxiety and like pivoting and reflecting and changing that went into those years. And I feel like that is not talked about enough that like you don’t have it figured out right away and it’s an evolving process. Someone said to me like product market fit is a moving target and I thought that that was really well said, that if you’re constantly growing the business it’s that constantly is moving away from you and you keep moving towards it.
I think I agree. And you find it for that product which generates revenue for you and then you’re growing and you gotta hit another one. So I think that’s a really interesting way of putting it, Courtney. Because I think sometimes, and I’ll include myself sometimes I say, well you got to get product market fit and we don’t articulate it in that way that you just said, which is you’ve got to get product market fit for your product. But if you’re growing your business and scaling it, you got to go find product market fit again. Yeah. So that’s awesome. So you’re, you raised some money. Another point that I thought was really good when we talk the other day was is that you are actually paying yourself now out of some of that money. Right? But you’re obviously not go on to sushi Rama, they’re in New York, whatever or one of those big fancy sushi places. That’s some expensive place that my friend from American express when he was consulting there took me to, it’s like you’ve never been to SU, I think it’s called sushi Rama. It’s like this insane sushi party restaurant and he took me to her. It was super fun but super fun. It was also in New York city, super expensive as I found out when the bill came. So half moon base, uh, main street sushi was expensive. Holy cow.
Yeah, we’ll go to sushi Rama on me.
That sounds lovely.
I’ve got a little bit of market fit, although I’ll tell you. So everyone knows a company, my software company that started again is still finding product market fit and we and changed the name and done six things. But that’s a story for another day. So you raised the money, you’re paying yourself, you have, how big are you now?
So many ways to answer that question. Yeah. Yep. So it’s uh, Dimitri and I on full time and Dmitri’s our tech lead who offered this. Great.
Yeah. Mike is, yeah, you’re, you’re way ahead. I like it. Yeah.
Yeah, he’s incredible. Um, and then we also have two other team members that work on the lighthouse part time. So one is Dara who helps with social media and marketing. A big part of that is we have a Tuesday career newsletter that goes out every Tuesday at seven 30, I think. And then, um, we also have Skyler who is really, I mean roles are so tough at this stage cause you’re kind of, everyone’s kind of doing everything. But he was employee number one at a company called Prive pass and did a ton on their kind of product positioning and then ended up building and leading their sales team. And so he’s helping us a lot with product positioning go to market and, and kind of the growth side of the business.
Oh, that’s awesome. And I know that you’re growing and I’m going to say this, you can correct me and I’m probably projecting cause I want you to believe this, like we talked the other day. I think that all entrepreneurs always have this thing like the badge of honor is to raise the money. The badge of honor is to build your business on a customer base and grow it and there’s a time and place for all types of capital, not just venture capital. There’s a time to borrow money and there’s reasons why you would do that. Is your goal to try to bootstrap this into the revenue and grow it that way and then take expansion capital when you need it and not necessarily some of the approaches entrepreneurs are taking as they find a little bit of traction and they want to go raise this big round.
Yeah. Our approach is something that I think is constantly being defined and honestly there’s been a couple of conversations even along with you recently that have made me rethink what that broader strategy looks like. What I will say is that I’m very, very cautious of the fact that like as you put it, accepting VC money means you’re on the rocket and you are taking what you’ve built and you are pouring money on it and hoping that it grows. And I’ve seen founders that I’m pretty close to accept that money and grow something that shouldn’t have been grown because it wasn’t, it wasn’t ready yet and they actually needed more time to, like you said, reflect and iterate and collect feedback. And it’s really hard, especially at a small team to be focused on both of those things at once. And so our whole focus right now is to close this pre-seed amount of 300 K all through angel investors.
And these are strategic investors that either have built companies successfully in the past, have a long standing history in HR, have interesting relationships and kind of the future workspace and use that capital to really deliver successfully on these early B2B partnerships that we have. And then really see like, okay, we now have something that we want to scale and whether that means we scale through the revenues we’ve collected or whether it means that we accept VC funding. I’m not sure yet, but that’s our goal right now. No, I think that’s the right way to definitely to approach it. I think entrepreneurs, I was a giving a talk recently and I told him, yeah, 50 people, I said none of you should. And they were in earlier stage of their business. So when I say that, like they didn’t have it. No, I even have a quarter million dollars in revenue yet, which is like, it’s a big accomplishment if you haven’t gotten there, you’re, you’re still early.
I would argue at a million dollars. You’re early, you could mistakenly earn a million dollars. Okay. Doing the wrong thing. Right. I’m sure you’ve seen that. The uh, absolutely none of you should raise any money cause they all want to raise money. I said because when you don’t have the money is when you will be creative because yes, I have no choice. Yep. What do you think about that? A hundred percent the thing is we’ve done because we don’t have the money like it really a good kind of example of this is in the early days we didn’t have money and we also didn’t have, I didn’t have Demetrius, I didn’t have a tech partner. And so I, while I had done kind of some kind of product management type roles, I didn’t know how to code myself what that meant, but I never let that be a blocker to building what we knew we had to build.
And also I knew that what we were going to build was going to change so many times that like investing upfront in an outsource agency or something would be a complete waste of money. And the other thing is that there’s just incredible tools out there now that allow you to build really high functioning products. So the first iteration of the lighthouse was a Wix landing page with a Typeform booking tool that led to a calendar invite that was sent via Zapier integrations that then led to a zoom video conference that then prompted through Zapier another type form that went out to collect feedback. And then we use Slack as like the kind of base of like if you need to message with your insider before or after the session and exchange documents and so on. So that, but it worked like, and that was, and it costs very like it was so it worked and, and it was, and it allowed us the flexibility to the minute something was wrong or the minute we wanted to test something, we just had to go to type form to change it.
Like it was so low effort. And now we actually have an algorithm and we have custom built tech and it’s incredible because it, we can see how this will scale over time, but things are still constantly changing and now there’s a little more effort to change it because there’s implications to our in terms of backend. And so I think that that like having had we had funding, we would have hired an amazing CTO or go to hire a dev shop and we would have built something that shouldn’t have been built. And so I completely agree with that. You do have to have a certain amount of money though that you can devote the time to get to have that creativity. And I also think you do need, I’ve definitely been in moments where I felt like so poor that I like didn’t, that was a stressor that didn’t allow me to have that like space to be creative. And so that’s actually when we raised the friends and family round of like, okay, we can’t even build this because right now I’m so worried about like how are we going to fund? Like even you know, these little things. So I think it’s a balance, but I completely agree with you.
Yeah. And I, and I that that’s an important point. I think those moments that you just described when the stress comes over to not having enough money are good scars to build for the future because there will be those moments again. But I would agree with you that when you realized that that tipping point, if you will, going backwards is that you’re more worried about doing, being able to put gas in your car. Quite frankly, literally, which I had been there before. Right. You know, one of the, one of my things of success was, was that when I didn’t have to worry about how much it was a gallon of gas, I remember those days. And even now, you know, there’ll be times when I’ll go through like, okay, well maybe it’s worth, you know, driving a little bit further. But I think that that’s important is, is that when you, when you do that, recognize that tipping point of you got to get a little bit of cash to make that happen.
But I appreciate you sharing that because people don’t always believe me, but you absolutely. And especially if you had raised venture capital, they would have expected you to be, to get the CTO, to get the VP of sales before you even have a sales process and do all that. So, um, I’m really impressed with the way that you’ve built it. And quite frankly, I’ll say it, I think it would be hard for someone like you [inaudible] because you come from a consulting world where they’re used to spending a lot of money. Like for Apple or any of the fortune 500 to to throw a million or two or three or $4 million. It’s something to do. A test is just, you know, it’s a rounding error for them.
yeah. Not that it’s not important. So the light house, two people full time. And tell me just real quick about your office. You’re in. I see you’re somewhere today. I think I talked to you from your house the other day. Did you, do you, are you renting space? I hope to, God you’re not paying for an office yet, but
we work out of a, we work.
There you go.
I actually am a huge, so I know we were extending a lot of flack right now. Um, we work has actually played a pretty big role in a lot of our growth in a lot of weird ways. Um, early days. Like we only joined officially probably a couple months ago, so it took a while to get here. But early days events were really big way that we kind of built our following and our email newsletter and our legitimacy and got to meet customers face to face. But renting events space in New York is really expensive and so we were recently acquired meetup.com and they were doing this, this pilot where basically if you had a meetup.com group you could host events at, we work for free. And so I immediately created two groups and we hosted a lot of our events in the early days. Completely free of charge at WeWorks and that, again it was, it was how we got in front of complete strangers and tying the lighthouse brand to the Weaver brand was incredibly helpful and also is this trusted place where people were fine going to rework even though they didn’t know the company hosting events.
So that is one way that like we’ve benefited and then, and a kind of hack that people might know about it, I don’t know how much longer this will last, but when new, we were open, they offer a free a floating desk space for a few months because they just want to get people in the doors and where they really make their money is with the offices. And so Dimitri and I benefited from that for a few months. And then ultimately when we felt like we, it was the right time, we got a membership through, we were accepted to their rework labs program, which is they offer discounted working space for early stage founders and their teams. And it’s this, it’s kind of like I’m half working space, half an hour like an incubator. And so, but there’s no equity, you know, you’re paying for the desks and it’s discounted, but you’re surrounded by other early stage teams and we work out of the Dumbo location and it’s this really incredible community of some companies that are pre-launched and one company in our space just got acquired by mind body. So it’s awesome. It’s an amazing environment. And then Mina, who is the director for this space brings in incredible people to speak about sales or they’ll bring in investors. And so it’s this, I mean it’s kind of like introductions and re and and training kind of at your door. All you have to do is turn your table desk or chair around and like join whatever’s being offered in the space. So yeah, we do work out of where we work and we have a real great experience.
Both of you or do you sometimes work from home? I don’t work from home because I don’t have a great setup at home and I’m not one of those people can like work on a couch or on a bed. If I had a desk I might, but I, yeah, I come in every day. Got ya know, you’re still living at your dad’s? No, I got an apartment. I know baby steps. Yeah, I live, I have a roommate. I live in Clinton Hill and on Craigslist. It’s a great spot. Cool. One thing before we go. You’ve been awesome today. I think we could talk all day about it, but some point we
gotta wrap it up cause I know you and I got a bunch of work to do and, but going back to when you started it up, I was just doing the math in my head between the wicks and all the things that you stuck together [inaudible] I think that it’d be fair to say that that MVP or minimum viable products, early version of what you built was probably built for less than 250 bucks. I’m not taking your time into it and I’m being generous here cause I, because no one would probably believe you and I if you said I did it for less than a hundred or,
yeah, I mean that sounds right. Like Typeform is $30 their pricing change recently, but $30 a month zoom, we have the recording feature, so it’s $50 a month. Wix is like between 15 and 20 and then what else did I miss in there as APR? It depends on the number of zaps. So that’s like a, that changes depending on how, how often your sites use. But yeah, there’s so many great tools out there where you can build something that’s really looks great, it’s so polished. And also the cool thing is now you see like, I don’t know if you know, wag the dog walking company. I was at one point studying different onboarding processes for different companies to kind of like think about how we could do our own. And I went through their onboarding process cause it was like how are they vetting for, you know, trusting people to come into people’s homes together, dogs. And you start to look at, as a founder, I think you start to look at the URLs and I realized that they’re using type form. So like it’s also just crazy. You see this company that’s raised, I don’t know how much money and that is big, sizable and they’re still using the same tools that you’re using as an early stage founder.
Yeah, I think that’s true. And the other thing I’ll say is, is that all those things do cost that monthly fee, but a lot of them have the first 30 days or 15 days free. So you literally can test your idea for free if you leverage that and then you can just cancel your membership if you don’t. I just wanted to mention that because, well, like I said, there’s this whole perception that you, you got to spend a hundred thousand dollars on an app and whatever else, but, and I think it takes confidence and I congratulate you on doing that, which is selling something before you even have it. I become the master of that, but it sure does save a lot of time. Yeah. So listen, Courtney, thank you so much. Uh, how people can find you at the lighthouse. Dot. U S whether you’re someone who wants to become a mentor or ultimately want some advice, right? They can bring their company to you. You’ve got a ton of top name people who are at the lighthouse like PWC, McKinsey, NBC, Amazon, already LinkedIn, right Peloton, which is a heck of a list there. Again, you can find Courtney [email protected] There is a contact us form, right?
Yup. On the website or you can email me directly. I’m very accessible. I’m Courtney. At the lighthouse.us
Courtney the lighthouse.us. Well, Courtney, thank you so much for your vulnerability, being honest and telling people how it really happened. I think you and I are going to look back on this podcast and I’m going to say, well I knew that lady when she had just moved out of her dad’s house, so thank you so much. Thank you so much Fran, and it was really, it was a lot of fun, man. That was a good episode, wasn’t it? I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Courtney, if you are listening, thanks so much for taking the time and sharing such intimate details of your experience. I’m really grateful and I know our listeners, you have enjoyed it as well, so thank you so much. As promised, put together a cheat sheet for you. If you’re thinking about leaving your job on what you want to do before you do that, as you heard Courtney had planned along the way, so you can find that cheat [email protected] forward slash 10 the number ten one zero that’s Brandon C white.com forward slash 10 the number ten one zero go grab that cheat sheet.
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