Andrew Gazdecki knows startups. He founded business apps as a broke 20 something entrepreneur and he sold it to a private equity firm before the age of 30. After going head-to-head with Apple over a blanket app store policy that threatened to ruin him. He’s been a growth consultant for several more multimillion-dollar startups, his companies have been featured in TechCrunch more than a dozen times and now, he shares his remarkable story in Getting Acquired: How I Built and Sold My SaaS Startup. Follow Gazdecki’s journey, starting a company at the age of 21 and hiring, then leading over 100 employees without any real work experience of his own.
This honest personal look behind the scenes reveals both his success and his mistakes as he labored to build a compelling brand story and catalyze growth on a shoestring budget. How he almost lost everything and how he finally sold the company for millions at the age of 29. Here’s my conversation with Andrew.
This is The Author Hour Podcast, I’m your host, Benji Block. Today, I’m honored to be joined by Andrew Gazdecki. He’s just come out with a new book. The book is titled, Getting Acquired: How I Built and Sold My SaaS Startup — SaaS being software as a service, for those that may be unfamiliar. Andrew, thanks so much for being here on Author Hour with us today.
Andrew Gazdecki: Yeah, thanks so much for having me. I’m excited.
Benji Block: Andrew, just tell us a little bit, give some context. Some may be familiar with you and some of your story but tell me your background and give us a little bit of information just here about yourself.
Andrew Gazdecki: How long – do you want the two, five-hour-long version? Let’s start with the two. I’ve been an entrepreneur my whole life, did the cliché stuff when I was a kid, eBay store, even had like a World of Warcraft affiliate website— don’t’ judge me for that. I was fortunate enough to find my passion early and that was building businesses but a little bit about me personally.
I grew up in Southern California, so I grew up in a little beach town called San Clemente, spent my youth surfing and skateboarding and probably breaking more bones than I should have and went to Chico State, started a company in college, and by the age of 23, I was managing more people than I thought I ever would in my life. So that’s really kind of what the book is about is just that story and that journey because I started the company when I was 21 and then it was acquired by a private equity firm when I was 29.
I knew the experience was weird the whole way through. I’m way too young for this, what am I doing, this should not be my first job… so that’s kind of me in a nutshell.
Benji Block: Yeah, I’m excited to dive into some of the parts of that story and this book does a great job of breaking that down while also giving away some really practical insights for entrepreneurs. It’s a good balance of both. Let me ask you this question. When it comes to the book itself because you’re a busy guy and taking on writing a book is no small feat. Why write a book now? What’s the thought process behind that and what kind of pushed you over the ledge to do it?
Andrew Gazdecki: Yeah, great question. Well, I have a son. I want to be able to say, I was cool when he’s 18, so I wrote it for my son, Julian. Also, just educate and inspire entrepreneurs. The company I built, I built in a way that is a little different than kind of what you hear coming out of Silicon Valley, raising millions of dollars, raising more millions of dollars.
I built a software company and we only raised $100,000 which is a very small amount compared to what you probably read in all the tech headlines today. So I thought it was just a good, practical story. I didn’t have any experience, I just had a lot of determination to build a business and create a better life for myself, my family and just share the experience. It’s really – it’s not a book about, I didn’t write it to help people in a way, “you can do it too, anyone can do it”.
It’s more of a “this is just what I did and I’m just – I’m not the smartest person, I’m not technical, I didn’t have any cofounders. I started a company in college, didn’t raise a lot of venture cap—” I raised no venture capital actually, “and was still successful.” It was kind of like a story of, you don’t need to follow the typical get in the Y Combinator or some accelerator. Have three co-founders, raise a bunch of venture capital. It’s a story of just how I built a business that was profitable and exited successfully.
Business Before the Bizness: Leading up to the Bizness App
Benji Block: It’s a good story because a lot of people when they do think about the SaaS space specifically, at least I did, I always think about just fund-raising rounds and amount of money you needed and so it was encouraging to hear a different perspective and I’m excited to get more of your take on that over the next few minutes.
Tell me this, when you’re writing and you’re working on this, clearly the book is for entrepreneurs but who is the ideal reader in your head?
Andrew Gazdecki: [The] ideal reader would be someone who wants to start a company and wants a real look into what it’s like. The ups and downs, the mistakes, the wins, things that I did correctly, things I did very incorrectly. It’s really just a story of how I came up with the idea, what did I do after that? How did I meet my first angel investor, how did that meeting go down?
It’s even fun for me to read because it kind of brings me down memory lane in a way but yeah, I would say, inspiring entrepreneurs or even existing entrepreneurs, building their own companies because it’s all just — it’s not theory. It’s not, “this is what I think you should do, this is just what I did and it worked for me at least.”
Maybe there are some takeaways for other entrepreneurs and more than anything just hopefully it inspires maybe one or two people to realize a lot of the things you think you might need to create a successful startup, you really don’t and I hope to share that just by sharing my story as proof.
Benji Block: Yeah, written form is always a great way to do that because you just never know when someone’s going to pick up the book and obviously, at the front end, you have a bunch of people but it’s existing, right? Even for — like you’ve mentioned, look for your son, when your son’s older. I love choosing this format. Okay, I want to do this, I want you to rewind for me because you mentioned earlier that you kind of always had this entrepreneurial spirit, you were always starting things, interested in it.
Is it something that was — do you feel like in your blood? Was there someone around you, maybe a mentor or a key influence that sparked this in you? Where did it sort of all begin?
Andrew Gazdecki: Yeah, that’s a really good question. I would say, I didn’t really grow up with a lot of means — I’ll probably start there — and I lost my father unfortunately when I was six. My mom lived paycheck to paycheck her whole life. I grew up in a town that was very affluent. I was just very aware of what we didn’t have. From a very young age, my friends had like $5 million dollar mansions on the beach. My life was great so I don’t want anybody to feel bad for me.
Benji Block: Yeah.
Andrew Gazdecki: I just kind of understood what it was like to struggle when you don’t have a lot of finances and so, in a way, entrepreneurship saved my life. Entrepreneurship is kind of cool and trendy right now, everyone wants to be a startup founder but I fell on entrepreneurship just out of necessity. I needed money to eat and stuff like that. Not quite literally like starving or anything like that.
If I wanted baseball cards, I had to — or let’s use Pokémon cards because it’s true. I was the one selling Pokémon cards instead of keeping them. I just had that natural knack from an early age and then over time, you just continue to learn more so that Pokémon, just selling Pokémon cards as an example. I learned sales and then in high school, I had an eBay store so I learned just basic web design, image editing, and stuff like that, how to use services like PayPal.
Got really inundated with tech early but yeah, it really began just from my childhood of just being surrounded by people with so much abundance and my family not. It just kind of put this drive into me like, “I could get that”, you know? I always joked with my mom, I’m like, “Remember the times when I’d be in junior high and you’d pick me up” and her timing belt on her car would be like… and then the other parents would be rolling up in brand-new Escalades.
I’d say that had the biggest influence which was my upbringing around so much wealth and not having that ourselves and then realizing, “Hey, there’s a way to actually achieve wealth if that’s what your goal is” — which candidly was my goal, to become a millionaire. So sometimes struggle can really push some motivation into you and yeah, that’s where I’d say, probably my most motivation comes from.
Benji Block: That’s great. Talk to me about what sparked the idea for Bizness Apps and the vision there? Obviously, as a kid, you’re doing all these different things but then it’s actually translated into an idea for a formidable business.
Andrew Gazdecki: Yeah, definitely. Like I said, I was always making different businesses and I actually had a business before business, Bizness Apps. I couldn’t afford the regular spelling domain so we went with just business spelled incorrectly.
Benji Block: I love that. I mean, I didn’t realize that, that’s amazing.
Andrew Gazdecki: It worked out well because then we ended up calling the company BizApps but anyways, I had this job board that would connect mobile developers with businesses and I started to see the same job posting over and over, meaning, a high-end restaurant or high-end hotel would post a listing saying, “Hey, I need a mobile app developed, I’ll pay $50,000” and a mobile developer would apply for that job or that project and then I’d get 10% of whatever the job was.
I saw this trend where these businesses were paying an absurd — this is when the iPhone just came out. Android hadn’t released anything. I was fortunate enough to also be in a college down at the CSU, Chico State and I just saw kind of this wave. Everyone had iPhones. I definitely did not have an iPhone, I couldn’t afford one but I just knew this was the future. I was like, “Okay, this is — mobile is definitely the next phase of the Internet, I need to figure out a way to get into this.”
Sold that business for what felt like, that was probably — I always joke about it but I sold that business for it’s probably like $20 grand or something like that but it felt like $50 billion dollars to me. It was the most –
Benji Block: I believe it.
Andrew Gazdecki: It was the most money I ever — I had never had like excess money like that in my life and so I used that to start Bizness Apps which was basically — I saw these people or these businesses saying like for example, a restaurant asking for a simple functionality like a little deprogram, they want to send push notifications when it’s happy hour or whatever it may be. I just thought, “Okay, if there’s these do-it-yourself website builders, what if there was a do-it-yourself mobile app builder?”
I just built this little template with the money from the sale of the job board and just man — it was a terrible MVP, meaning Minimal Viable Product. Today, people would completely laugh at it but back then, there was nothing like it and so I just kind of saw this opportunity, and candidly, it was just a right place, right time business. If I didn’t build this company, someone else was going to build it. I just saw a massive market with a massive problem or the way I really describe it is, an obvious solution to an obvious problem in a massive market, so I just kind of got lucky in a way.
I will say, what I did in college as well, is I started three other businesses. There is a saying in angel investing, the need to invest in 12 companies to actually be profitable because the other 11 will fail and you’ll get one that just takes off and pays for the other 11. I was starting a new company every single summer and this job order was one of them that I started over a summer break in college and then Bizness Apps was the one that kind of really took off.
Yeah, I did not — when I started it and if you told me where I would take it, I would tell you you’re crazy. I started it with just sort of meager, just like, “Hey, I just don’t want to get a job.” That was literally my goal. I felt if I could just pay my bills enough to where I can keep working on startups, I’d eventually find one that maybe could reach some form of scale, and Bizness Apps ended up being that startup.
Build a System and Environment That Your Team Will Thrive In
Benji Block: Wow. When you think of someone listening that’s wanting to be an entrepreneur, they’re wanting to start something. You think you just hit on just a key component which is this idea of seeing a need and meeting a need, right? I guess I would just love for you to expand there on what you think it takes to find the right niche and really start something.
Do you think it’s just the repetitive nature of trying a bunch of things? Do you think it’s really having eyes to see, maybe a combination of both?
Andrew Gazdecki: Yeah, good question. I always say, as an entrepreneur, you want to be obsessed with the problem that you’re solving and not the idea. You hear people all the time, I have a startup idea but really, what you want is you want to fall in love with the problem, not an idea.
Benji Block: Interesting.
Andrew Gazdecki: Because a startup is really an idea just iterated over and over and over and over. The first version of Bizness Apps looked nothing like the final version that was eventually acquired years later. I always say, really talk to customers and understand their problems and I had a unique insight.
That’s another thing I always advise entrepreneurs is what is your competitive advantage? What do you see in a market that others don’t? And for me with the little job board that I had, I saw what businesses were looking for on a mobile app. Like a full spec of functionality. I had this unique insight into the problem they were trying to solve and they were trying to connect with their customers, where they were and that was on their mobile devices.
I always advise entrepreneurs, don’t get so caught up with the idea because ideas are really worth zero, and execution is worth potentially millions. That’s another thing too. Don’t get so set on your idea, really fall in love with the problem and how you solve it and so, that involves talking to a lot of customers and also having some sort of unique insight into the market.
Benji Block: Yeah, that segues really well because you spend quite a bit of time in the book, talking about storytelling as a way to slay competition and so when you’re obsessed with the problem — I’m sure storytelling then comes in — talk to me about what you see there. What advantage it provides to maybe helping show how it solves a problem, right?
Andrew Gazdecki: Yeah, I mean, you can throw a lot of stats in people and there are tons of studies that show people just don’t remember numbers, stats, numbers. Stories are really a way to bring someone in emotionally into your company’s brand, product, or service and really help them remember what you do. People buy with the emotional side of their brain and so with Bizness Apps, what we did is we had this interesting David vs. Goliath story where — when we’d sell to small business, our main pitch was, “Hey, you know that Starbucks down the street with that mobile application? Yeah, that was made and it costs millions of dollars and you know, they are potentially stealing business from yours” because we sold to small businesses so we were big advocates of what is really like the bedrock of the American economy. So we said, “We can help you compete with these public companies for the price of a newspaper ad.”
So we had this David vs. Goliath story that we would sell to customers and it really resonated because they felt that. They felt like “This larger restaurant chain has a mobile app but I don’t have $250,000,” which is what like 10 years ago, a decade ago, a native IOS and a native android app would cost to develop.
Benji Block: That’s wild to think about.
Andrew Gazdecki: It really is and then we were able to develop that for we’d always say less than a newspaper ad. What are you currently spending your marketing on? They’d say newspaper ads most of the time so we made it very relatable. We understand your problem and then we would kind of paint it in a way where you can compete against your larger competition by working with our company and that resonated really well.
You see it all over the place with other businesses, you know Salesforce has like “No Software” meaning nothing installed on-prem. There are other SaaS companies. There’s a company called Drift. They have an enemy that they brand called Forums.
Benji Block: Yeah, having an enemy is so important and that does flow into storytelling really well to actually know what your enemy is.
Andrew Gazdecki: Yeah, you don’t want to be too brash about it like Box.com had a lot to say about Microsoft.
Benji Block: Maybe not brand quite as specific.
Andrew Gazdecki: Yeah, I can’t remember which one that was but you know, really, it just compares and contrasts. You’re the little guy, we can have you compete against your Goliath and really make you the champion of your business. That’s what we did at Bizness Apps and I think every startup today, technology really isn’t as much as a barrier as it used to be. Fundraising isn’t, there are so many things that you can just copy but you can’t really copy your story or your brand.
That is why we always say brand and storytelling can be such a defensible moat because if you have a unique story that resonates with your audience that can lead the press, that can lead to customers easily understanding your product and that is really what you want out of your marketing. It’s something that really people remember and people remember stories more than anything.
Benji Block: When someone starts something, I mean that is a pretty common occurrence. Zero to one is difficult but there is a lot of content out there that it’s covered a lot, right? When you start to scale something, say a lot of people kind of drop out, right? Zero to one is a stage people get stuck in. I wonder for you, what are some of the biggest shifts? Maybe it’s in mindset or approach that you had to make when you went from not zero to one but instead like one to 10 like, “Oh man, we’re actually starting to scale this thing.”
Andrew Gazdecki: Yeah, great question. I would say the first thing that comes to mind will be culture and it took me a while to really understand this. Some people think culture is just some words that you write down and it’s like, “All right, this is who we are, what we do” but culture is really how the company operates when the CEO isn’t there. It’s the operating system that you and your team members work within.
It is also what inspires your team to go the extra distance and to get that extra 20 to 30% of motivation out of your team and really, use culture to inspire your team. Your story can also be part of your culture, like what do you stand for? What are you trying to accomplish with this business outside of just generating revenue? For us that was, again, helping small businesses compete with some of the larger competitors but that, I remember that.
There are times where once we were getting past like if we’re talking specific numbers like growing from zero to one million happened really fast and then two to three was kind of when we started hiring a lot and we were still growing really fast and I wasn’t just delegating really as much as I should. I was delegating the lowest stuff first like sales, customer support and then it just took me a while to really understand what a CEO of a company does.
Your job essentially is just — I always say it’s to make sure your team is happy and they have everything they need to succeed and there is obviously way more to that onion when we start peeling it back but you know, culture is really kind of the environment that you create for your employees and that can enable them to be successful or really unsuccessful. That’s where I think a lot of entrepreneurs when they —
You know, fun fact, I saw something recently like 4 % of startups get to a million in revenue and then 0.0 or 0.04% get to $10 million. Yeah, a lot of entrepreneurs and startups do kind of fail when they start to scale because they don’t build in processes and systems for their team to really thrive in, you know? It’s really hard to just say, “Hey everybody, just keep working,” you know?
You need to have a clear plan, a clear strategy, something that motivates everybody, something that people really believe in, and then just being a good person too. Just really caring about your team personally and professionally, I think that is a big theme in the book. I always say like the cool thing about startups is you can make it whatever you want. You can make whatever product, I mean, within reason.
You know, there has to be like a need and stuff like that but, if you find a market need, you can hire, you can work with whoever you want. You can make your culture whatever you want. If you’re going to make a startup, you might as well make it somewhere you’d like to work too and you need to have fun along the way because startups can be pretty tough. Long story short, you know the one-to-ten phase is really about shifting from working in the business and working on the business instead.
That shift is hard when you have never had any experience and so in the book, I talk about [how] I remember these moments where we’d have an opportunity to hire someone for like $200k that we probably should have and I’m 23 and I’m like, “What? I was making $40k at some other job in college. That’s ridiculous.” Stuff like that’s just inexperienced in hindsight. You want the smartest people on your team. I would say those are some of the pitfalls I made but likely course-corrected along the journey.
You Don’t Need to Rely Solely on Venture Capital to Build Your Business. Build on Your Own Terms.
Benji Block: One thing I want to make sure we talk about before we end is really the season that kind of — I mean, you guys went into crisis mode because Apple almost shut you down. Tell us a little bit about that story and your experience there.
Andrew Gazdecki: Yeah, so that was a pretty turbulent time in the business. The short story there was Apple released new guidelines that essentially said no template apps were going to be accepted moving forward into the iOS store and so we kind of have to scramble to reconfigure our software, work with Apple to gain — what were they called? I can’t remember, basically like a hall pass if you will like, “Hey, give us 90 days and we’ll adjust but approve our templated apps” and we really fought back.
We fought back and we went as far as we created a petition. We felt it was an attack on small businesses because without companies like Bizness Apps, again, the only way to create a custom app was to spend tens – no, not tens, hundreds of thousands of dollars. That was definitely a tough time but we got through it. I definitely have a big love-hate relationship with Apple.
Benji Block: On the back end of that crisis, you kind of re-evaluate. I mean, you knew you wanted to sell it. It has been like what? The course of eight years I believe, so what was that process like of saying, “Okay, I want to sell” and what was the lead up to that?
Andrew Gazdecki: Yes, so when you go and you sell the business especially one like this in my situation where it was my first business, it was almost like my childhood house in a weird way. Bizness Apps is still up. I sometimes log in to the platform and check it out. I’m like, “Oh, I remember building that feature.” So selling it was a very emotional process but you know, one year building a startup is kind of like cat years or dog years.
It feels like a decade every single year because the highs are so high and the lows are so low, so I was just tired. And then the Apple part and just being in the business for about a decade. I was ready to move on and start new companies and just dabble in new technologies, which I’ve had the opportunity to do, fortunately. We just got a great offer and so it was just something I couldn’t turn down and then as like with anything, I wasn’t going to hand this company down to my son or anything like that.
When it came time to sell the business, we found the right buyer, we got the right offer and it all worked out so I am extremely grateful for the outcome.
Benji Block: As we start to wrap up, let’s talk resources for entrepreneurs because this book isn’t just your story. It’s also there are some great tools and resources towards the back half but you really lean heavily into bootstrapping instead of VC funding. Give me your vantage point, the pros to building a business without that funding, that backing.
Andrew Gazdecki: Yeah, definitely. I would say the expectation when you raise venture capital is to build a multi-billion dollar business, which is awesome. If you’re an entrepreneur that thinks they can obtain that go for it. But in my view, I believe that bootstrapping is best for 99% of entrepreneurs because it allows you to build a business on your terms. You can sell the business whenever you want.
When you go to sell the business, you own the majority of it so an example would be if you sell a business for one, two, three, four, five, 10, $20 million that is a huge success but please tell me the last time you read about that in a magazine. You know, everyone likes to hear about the billion-dollar outcomes and stuff like that but statistically those are so rare. Once you touch venture capital in terms of bringing on outside investors of that caliber— let’s say you raise like a $5 million series A or something like that, you’re signing up to build a billion-dollar business or something —
There’s really — it is very binary and bootstrapping gives you the freedom to operate the business at your pace, really be your own boss, have a little bit more freedom. But then I think for me, the bigger part of it and the reason why we turned down raising venture capital and the reason why we only raised $100,000 was we realized like hey, we were already successful.
We are already profitable so you know, why would we give that up for more? I guess the best part about bootstrapping is I don’t think people realize that how obtainable building a business to a couple of million in revenue can be. That’s a couple million and that’s a complete failure if you take venture capital but if you bootstrap and you own the whole business, you’re a millionaire. You’re a huge success.
You can have your whole life in terms of finances paid for and it’s just a much more practical path for I think a lot of entrepreneurs and I think the bigger message is just it’s a different path for entrepreneurs that just isn’t talked about enough. All we hear about is the big headlines of companies raising money or selling for billions of dollars or going public but in reality, you can build a small profitable software company and do really well financially.
That’s what I did personally and it worked out really well for me and so I guess my message is just kind of going against the grain in what you typically think of when you think of that Silicon Valley-based company is. You don’t need investors, you know? You can use customers as your form of funding, you know? That’s the most sustainable source of funding of everything, its customers. So yeah, I just think bootstrapping really just aligns really with what entrepreneurs want out of a startup.
Usually, that’s just a better life or financial freedom and it’s much more obtainable when you’re looking to build a business to a few million in revenue rather than hundreds of millions of revenue, which is substantially harder and statistically much more improbable. I’d say it’s just again, when we think of just statistically 1% of startups become “a unicorn” it makes sense to maybe think about when you take on venture capital.
Does your startup have that 1% chance or more? Would you bet a decade of your life with the 1% chance of success? I personally wouldn’t and so that’s why I recommend bootstrapping so much because there are just so many benefits and even if you just grow a business to $100,000 a year, if you own the whole business, you’re a complete success and you’re a success no matter what. You define your own success when you bootstrap.
When you bring in outside investors with different expectations than yours, you can end up with a company that either fails because you took on money or you got to work just all these crazy hours to hit these growth goals. Long story short, the more practical, the more realistic path for a lot of entrepreneurs in my opinion.
Benji Block: Absolutely. I love hearing you share about that and for listeners who are now going to go pick up your book, they can read more about your thoughts there and some really practical takeaways and thoughts on why you choose to go that route. Andrew, thanks so much for taking time and chatting with us here. For those that want to stay connected with you, besides checking out the book where do people find you and stay connected online?
Benji Block: Awesome. The book is titled, Getting Acquired: How I Built and Sold My SaaS Startup. I know it’s going to be great for those that pick it up and read it. Andrew, thanks for being with us on Author Hour today.
Andrew Gazdecki: Thank you for having me.