Welcome to The Early Days: a series checking in with kickass Founders sharing honest lessons, tips & tricks and a sneak peek into building from the ground up, in public
Today, we have Artem, a professional software developer who became an entrepreneur. In this interview, Artem shares his journey into entrepreneurship, his struggles, and successes, and how he developed his skills. He also talks about his latest project, Twool, a tool for generating personalized Twitter DMs. In this conversation, Artem shares his plans for Twool and how he hopes to support founders doing outreach.
Can you tell us about your journey into entrepreneurship? What motivated you to start your own business, and what challenges did you face along the way?
About 15 years ago, I read “Rich Dad Poor Dad” and was sold on the idea of having my own business. Of course, I had zero marketing capabilities at that time but I was honest enough with myself to admit it. So, I created a plugin for a testing tool called TypeMock and contacted its creator, Eli Lopian, asking him to handle all the marketing + sales. To my delight, he agreed, and within a month or two I had the first sale.
The problem was that I was doing it in a vacuum – I had no contact with my users and I had no idea what they wanted. So it started quite well but ended over a few years.
Then there was, and is, flyent – an online tool for learning Lithuanian, which I did with a good friend. It’s still working and has a bunch of raving fans, but the MRR is about $10 after 7 years of effort. I still believe in it, it probably needs more love, effort, and funds. Plus, a bigger market and an experienced B2C marketer.
About 2 years ago, I realized that flyent wasn’t going anywhere and I needed to do something else to quit my daytime job. I am a big fan of Rob Walling and his stair-step strategy, so I decided to start by trying out small ideas until one of them works.
How did you develop your entrepreneurial skills, and what resources or mentors helped you in the process?
I’ve read *a lot*. Starting from Naomi Dunford’s IttyBiz blog (and a few paid courses), then, of course, Rob’s podcast, and then so many articles and podcasts that I can’t possibly remember. But, until recently, it felt like I knew all the theory but just couldn’t turn it into practice.
In the middle of 2022, I was approached by Eli Finer (growthlab.so), and joined his micro-cohort which was a game-changing experience. For the first time, I was having someone more experienced be deeply invested in my success. The first project failed quickly, and the second failed too, but I knew that sooner or later we’ll have a successful project.
What inspired you to start Twool? How do you hope to support founders doing outreach?
It was Eli’s bunch of DM scripts that gave birth to twool. I just needed better personalization, so I added GPT-generated messages to it and started using it for my previous project, twok, a tool for generating TikTok videos from tweets. Someone just asked, “what are you working on?”, and I mentioned this, and then got a DM from someone asking for more information. Thanks to my previous lessons with Eli, I asked how much would they pay. They said $100/mo. This was good enough to build an MVP.
After talking to several founders and other clients, I realized that the main problem for many people is that they don’t know how to get started. They don’t know how to search for leads, and they don’t know what to write them in their first message. I onboard every customer myself, we discuss their needs and I write a separate script for them. Right now I have 7 scripts for 5 of my customers, and I’m trying to combine it all into something more manageable. But I wouldn’t be able to do it if I started coding before talking to my customers.
What are your future plans for Twool?
First of all, I need a self-serving campaign setup so that I don’t spend time setting up every campaign. Ideally, it should be working for absolute beginners, e.g. you would describe your audience and AI would create the corresponding DB record for you.
Another big thing on my TODO list is an Inbox feature. When you send out tens of DMs every day, it’s so hard to use the native Twitter messenger.
I hope to get it to 1-2K MRR and then sell it. That would give me some space for the next, bigger, project.
How do you think cold outreach will change in the coming years?
As AI gets smarter at mimicking humans, people will get more suspicious, and would eventually close or ignore their DMs unless they get a DM from a close friend. This will force people to invest more effort into building up relationships. However, AI will learn that, too, at which point it all becomes a race of who’s more human.
However, if you are a manager in a company, you don’t care if it’s a human or not, you only care about the offer. So, cold outreach will thrive in the areas where human connection is not as important as say on Twitter.
How do you keep up with the latest trends and best practices for Twitter DMs?
I don’t think there are any “trends” here. You just show that you care. Make a mental effort of switching to a helpful mode. Ask questions, gather valuable information, figure out if this is the right person to sell to, and only then make your offer. If this is not your ideal customer, try to think of other ways of helping them (if they need help).
How do you balance the demands of running a successful startup with your full-time job?
Fortunately, I have flexible hours. But still, I do most of the work on twool during weekends.
I love myself, and that saves me from overworking. 🏾
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs who are just starting out on their journey?
Don’t get too attached to your idea. Validate it with several niches and move on if it doesn’t work right away. Don’t go for a unicorn, start with something small, something that you can prototype really quickly and then throw away if it doesn’t work. Gain confidence and some runway, then go bigger.
What do you have in mind for your next project?
One idea is a tool for university scholars that would help them to search for grants, fill out forms, and even suggest topics for articles that would be funded by these grants.
Another idea is a tool for investigative journalism that would analyze the available information and present the most important bits in a visual form.
- Favourite tool?
- Productivity hack?
- Book recommendation?
The Mom’s Test, of course
- One-liner for a business idea?
- Person you would like to have a coffee with?
My wife, I really enjoy having coffee with her ☕️
We'd like to extend our sincere thanks to Artem for sharing his story with us. Through his experiences, we've learned the importance of validating startup ideas, the value of customer feedback, and the power of personalized messaging. We wish him and Twool continued success as they work to make cold outreach easier and more effective for founders. We hope this interview has inspired and informed you on your own entrepreneurial journey.
Keeping up with Artem 👀
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