From the outside in it appears that CoachUp, the number one marketplace for athletes to connect with private coaches, has the perfect startup story.
NBA MVP, Stephen Curry, is an ambassador and part owner of the Boston startup, the founders raised $9.4 million in venture funding, and the platform hosts over 13,000 private coaches.
If you ask Co-Founder and Director of Engineering Arian Radmand he’d agree that CoachUp’s story is special. However, it’s the challenges the team’s overcome that makes the journey so meaningful.
Like any overnight success, it took us years and years to get here. The hard work doesn’t end. It’s still an uphill battle every single day.
During my Honeybook interview with co-founders Shadiah Sigala and Oz Alon, I shared that Oz’s responses made me feel like I was in Fundraising 101. Although Shadiah suggested that was was code for, ‘You talk too much,’ my thoughts were, ‘Thank you so much. I can’t wait to write down everything you just said.’
That’s exactly how I felt after my conversation with Arian, who’s Startup 101 class provides a real glimpse into life as a founder.
As the startup community debates the consequences of increasingly high investments and valuations I was excited to chat with Arian about the founding team’s decision to bootstrap CoachUp.
In his personal blog, Arian shares a vivid representation of one of the consequences of raising venture financing before a startup’s ready: “Remember when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail. When your company is flush with cash, it’s very tempting to solve your problems by throwing more capital at them.”
Arian feels that the greatest benefit of bootstrapping is clarity. The team was forced to find creative solutions on their own. They immersed themselves in their users shoes, and most importantly, exercised exceptionally clear judgment leading to smarter outcomes in the long run.
When you bootstrap, it’s do or die. The end of the road is coming, and it’s a lot nearer. It’s a lot more motivation to not just work but to have an outcome because you have to execute.
The primary place the team had to execute was building the marketplace. While Arian encourages marketplace founders to build both sides simultaneously, he highlights the importance of ensuring that there’s stable supply before attracting raging demand. Translation: Don’t bring hungry people to a restaurant before the chef arrives.
Arian and his co-founder Jordan Fliegel worked tirelessly to determine where and how private coaches were connecting with athletes.
Once the marketplace started operating, they chose to expand nationwide rather than city by city, the founders’ initial plan.
According to Arian, CoachUp needed to rely on user input rather than their personal opinions. The decision enabled them to concentrate their efforts on the largest private coaching markets, which emerged as California, Texas, and Florida.
When it comes to building the product the team is adamant about having a full understanding of the user experience. Echoing a recent post by Albert Wegner, Arian, Jordan, as well as other CoachUp team members, actively use CoachUp to understand how the product functions for athletes and coaches.
Arian calls these gut checks, which the team relied on in the early days when extensive AB testing wasn’t a possibility.
The CoachUp team’s early work was rooted in the traditional ‘fake it until you make it’ mentality.
For Arian, Jordan, and CoachUp’s third co-founder, Gabe it was paramount that anyone who visited the CoachUp site felt it was a multimillion dollar organization.
Just because your organization isn’t a multimillion dollar enterprise yet doesn’t mean you can’t start putting the practices in place.
Arian’s insight reflects a presentation he gave at his alma mater Boston University where he highlighted the importance of founders preparing their startups for scale during the early days. This is primarily important for the culture you want to define your company.
It’s simple for founders to dictate culture when it’s a small team because they are the culture. It requires significantly more effort to cultivate a competitive and exciting learning environment as the team grows.
Once established, the simplest way to maintain that culture is to hire individuals who not only believe in your mission but gel with your work ethic.
The best indication of future behavior is past behavior.
With that in mind, the most important question Arian asks in hiring interviews is how an individual has assessed, solved, and overcome a challenging situation.
Thus far, it’s working great as Matthew Lowe, the team’s content manager, describes CoachUp as having a ‘work hard, play hard’ culture – A sentiment every founder is eager to hear.
Matt’s insight stems from the founders’ commitment to highlighting each team member’s achievements and how he or she contributes to the larger organization; This is Arians favorite part of working at a startup.
Here’s a glimpse of what we discuss:
- The CoachUp platform and the impact private coaches have on athletes
- The benefits of bootstrapping
- An inside look into how they built the marketplace
- The team’s experiences at Mass Challenge Accelerator and Techstars, including how they’re different.
- Working with mentors
- How to hire A+ team members who work well under pressure
- Learning how to scale and manage a growing team
- How to make celebrity partnerships
- CoachUp’s ultimate goal to start a movement for coach entrepreneurs