Rohan Gilkes is an accountant turned multimillion online entrepreneur. He bootstrapped his way to success without any outside investment...
Welcome to the addicted to learning podcast. My name is Gabriel Horvat, and each week I get to bring you inspiring stories, lessons learned and insights from people who forge their own paths in life. I appreciate you guys spending time with me today. Let's get right to it. What is happening, everybody. I hope y'all are having a fantastic day.
We have Rohan Gilkes on the show today. Rohan is a machine. He originally started out as an accountant, but he knew he always wanted more for himself. So eventually he bootstrapped his way into a multimillion dollar, online business success, man, we covered so many different topics today from mindset to starting a tech business as a non-tech founder to marketing.
Um, so without further ado, let's just get right into it. And I'm super excited to bring you all Rohan Gilkes. All right, we have today in the house Rohan Gilkes. You're the first person to get that right.
Uh, I'm not going to lie. I actually went to look up on, on YouTube and you're in your videos you have on there. And I was like, how is he pronouncing that name? Let me get that name. Right. Awesome you did that bro, thank you.
Oh, it's like, cause like, you know, I have this weird last name myself where it's like, you know, Horvat and it's always like whore bat hole at Horvat? And it's like, it's I have this, I get this. And when people like, they always mispronounce your name. So I feel like I want to extend the courtesy.
Oh man. Yeah. I mean, um, You know, um, people can obviously go look up, um, all of your accomplishments online. You're a very accomplished person. Uh, you've done incredible. Things and business really with multiple million dollar businesses. Um, so I'm just going to kind of like refer people to, you know, the interwebs, if they want to learn about your background, because time is precious and frankly, um, you've, you people know it's on there.
It's, it's out there. If people want to learn more about your background. That's cool. I like to kind of like jump right in to, um, today's topics. Um, Rohan. You're a marketing genius. Okay. Um, I, uh, like the, how you're been, you bootstrapping your businesses to like, you know, seven figures, just like that. I've been looking up online, uh, your businesses.
How did you learn marketing? Um, well, you know, thanks for, you know, the pace of the question and framing it in that way.
So everything I've learned. Okay. So I do have a degree in business, but I did not learn a single thing that I applied to building businesses or marketing from that period of time. I can't point to anything that even resonates from back then. Um, how I learned was this two-step process of first. I would Google and find all these blogs about internet marketing and conversion optimization and copywriting and branding and customer acquisition, all of these blogs, all these blogs, and I would read them.
And then I took the second step, which is a step that most people miss is that I would actually implement them on a project. In, in real time, um, very often in real time. So I would find that information and use it. Like I would use a recipe if I were in the kitchen cooking, um, like people don't just sit down and read recipes for fun.
Right? Like you read them and then you go make the steak or something. And that's how I did it. And I just kind of got better and figured out what actually worked for me. And then when I, when I found out what worked, I just did it more and more and more. And, um, I know we're here. And, and what was that, that, that ended up working for you in the beginning?
My first project that worked was a simple home cleaning service, but built in a way that was very tech forward. So it looked like what a home services business would look like. If Uber ran it. Right. So it was a mobile app and online booking and scheduling and credit card processing, really making it like tech forward.
And that was my first win. Yeah. And how do you define that? When was it in that situation back then? Was it an extra, you know, 1000, 2000? Was it 10,000? What I would talking? So the first point I categorize it as a win for me was when I was doing about 5,000 per month take home, because that was more than my real job at the time, you know, like my, my, my main job.
So for me, it became a win. Uh, like, uh, like a, like an extreme, when, when it, when I was like, man, my side hustle is making more than my main hustle. Right. But then that business has gone on to do a little more than $15 million back then. I had no idea of any of this stuff. I was just trying to find a way to survive.
I had just been laid off from my job. And I started it. Wasn't making enough for me not to get a second job. So I got another job and they kept doing it. And then I quit my main job. Yeah. Hmm. And was that also, um, did you, do you end up making your first a hundred dollars with this, uh, online, uh, tech enabled cleaning business?
Was that another thing? The reason why I'm asking is like, it's always interesting how people make their first $100. So funny. Well, our, our, interestingly enough, no, I had made my first $100 online before that. Uh, but it really was, um, it was not that much. It doesn't even compare, but I did make some money, um, doing, um, eBay affiliate.
There was this program called bands build in niche sites. And on that platform, you could essentially like, you know, build an e-commerce website. But all of your products would be products that were listed on eBay by other people. And it's a one came when they clicked through your link and purchase something, then you get an affiliate reward from eBay.
And so that was my first, um, money because I started selling like cement mixers through that affiliate thing and service. Yeah. So I made some money there. Yeah. Damn damn. I love it. Cause it's so, you know, it's so practical. It's not, you know, it's not this sexy app or whatever AI, you know, machine learning, yada yada.
Yeah. It's like, you know, you know, you've got, you know, that's what you did. It's straightforward and practical, but there's a demand for it. You know, there's a need for it. And, and that, that kind of, that thought that, that you, that you just put out there is exactly what ended up being my mantra for every bit of the business I've built since.
Is there a really big demand for it? I don't build any magic or like I went to bed and dreamed up this magical idea. You know, I don't build anything like that. I build real critical businesses where people are spending. A lot of money on every single month. And that's why I go build. Yeah. Yeah. I saw your, uh, idea validation checklist online, those like 10, 10 points.
You have like 10 things. You posted this on Twitter where it's like 10 points. If there is a chance for recurring revenue, 10 points, if the price point is more than $50 and. You know, and obviously you have 10 points of the thing is unsexy boring, but there's a need. And, um, yeah, it's, it's just so, uh, I mean intuitive to obviously only build when there's demand yet.
So few people do it and I've certainly been guilty of this. Myself cost me a lot of time, you know, you know, and so have I I've been everything that I've learned is a result of being guilty of it too. So when I say something it's not with any judgment because I'm like, yo, I've been there as well. I've been there.
I built a. A dating site. And it was a dating site where it had this little twists where it was showing one person for date. It was so random and I spent like a year working on it and I'm like, okay, that was cool. But within a year of working on my other business, that was a real company where people were spending money on.
I had done my over a hundred thousand with a dating site. I had done $0. And I worked just as hard. So that's why I'm like never again, never again. Oh man. Yeah. It's like, uh, um, but then for some reason there's this, the spark, like, I still remember when I make my first dollar online, it's just like, you've seen the light all of a sudden and it's like, hang on.
Can I make $2? Can I make $3? And then it's like, you know, I I'm going to make this work. Like I, you know, I'm a, I'm a die, you know, like, like I will make this work no matter what, because it's kind of like, You're like this magic thing, almost like, you know, you can make money on the internet. Are you kidding me?
Yeah. It's like a whole other world. Um, it's a whole other world is a whole other way of thinking about how you set up your life, what it looks like, what challenges are. Um, it's just a, it's a, it's like, it's like you've been walking through the world for me. It felt like I hadn't been walking through the world with a blindfold on, I thought the process for my life was going to be go to school, get a degree, get that good job, you know, et cetera, et cetera.
That was what I thought my process was going to be. And then just, just like you said, it was a whole new world where I was like, man, this is just incredible. And so, um, so I'm going to challenge you on something here, because I actually, I'm really curious. So you said essentially go where there's lots of competition, because that means there's tons of demand.
Right. And you don't have to validate your idea because obviously there's demand for it. Cause there's tons of, you know, gas stations for instance. Right. Um, So I started out selling neck pillows on Amazon among other things, and I got absolutely crushed by the competition after like a couple of weeks.
And I was like, ah, dang. Um, you know, there's too much competition here. Um, um, what will you say to that? Um, sure. I mean, that's a good point. So in some of these closed platforms, like on Amazon or eBay or some other platforms that are out there that are marketplaces. Yes. You are walking into a world of, um, potential difficulty.
And then you're also going after people that are really good marketers. So, so like, like people that are doing these marketplaces, they have been on these marketplaces for years and they know all these little tips and tricks and SEO and all this stuff. So I typically stay away from those types of endeavors.
Um, and then I also stay away from products too. Um, like, like actual products where you shipped. So I can remember my 10. Point, um, um, my, my a hundred point lists, it says 10 points. If it's not a product.
Yeah. I remember is really the cashflow doesn't work in the right direction for me. Um, you, you have a product, you have to either buy it first or, I mean, you could drop ship, but then the margins are so tight. The service. You can grow without any additional money because you just hire more people. There's a product which I've done before to you.
You always are having to deal with buying more product out of the profits from the last set of product that you bought, that you bought, if you are able to resell it. So I stay away from products altogether and they also stay away from those clothes and marketplaces like Amazon and so on. I instead say what's a solid service and that service could be software as well.
That could, that, that I do not have to present in the closed marketplace. I can present it to the world. Um, and that's how I think about it. Yeah. Yeah. Speaking of software. So I also, uh, correct me if I'm wrong, but I think you're non-technical. Is that right? Yes, absolutely. Non-technical can't cool. So then my question would be because I hear this so often, like, but I'm not technical.
I can't code, I can't, you know, make software or sell software. Um, yet here we are, you know, and you're this, you know, multimillion dollar SAS, founder. Um, how do you pull that? Um, yeah, so I kind of like fell into that. So. When I describe the business, I started first and how I built it in a tech forward way.
I knew how I wanted it to operate and what the user experience was supposed to be. So I could, um, and I found a developer to help me bring it to life. So I actually first built, my first SAS was really for myself, was for my own company. And then, um, people saw it and were like, you know, that we would love a version of your software or.
And I was like, you know what? I can turn this into, like, I didn't even know what the word SAS meant. Right. Um, so the service, I didn't even know any of that, but I felt like, you know what, I could turn this into a product that other people could use and they can charge monthly for that. So that was how I first got into building software.
Was that transition? Um, but for me, the entire process is really being able to know how you want people to experience the product, what that experience is supposed to be like. And then being able to find people that have the skills to build it. And third, being able to communicate with that person. And if you have that, you can build software.
Without that, I can't write a single line of code and my SAS was doing, um, Um, about 2 million per year. By the time I sold it last year and I still can't read a single line of code.
And if you don't mind me asking, um, did you get the developer in as sort of like a technical folk co-founder with the equities bled or, um, did you pay him like, uh, like a salary or something? How did it work? Yeah, so with that project, Um, and actually with all of my SAS projects, I have brought in a technical co-founder.
Um, but here's the thing. Um, the technical co-founders I brought in, they were, they were not coders either. They were more like project managers. And so I brought them in, they will be able to like wire frame things and, and, you know, install our SSL and get up our website and do those other things while managing the operations of.
The, um, developer being able to say, okay, this is, this is the language that we want to code this in. This is the framework that works well and so on. So that was really their job. And I, I went 50 50 and I figured 50% of, um, a $2 million business is more than a hundred percent of our company. It doesn't exist.
So I made that decision. And for each one of my, my SAS businesses, I pretty much partner with a technical co-founder. Yeah. Okay. So basically they didn't really do much coding themselves if at all. And they were just like project managing the tech side. Absolutely. Because I knew that I, I wanted to spend my time on the marketing and the customer acquisition side.
So, you know, it's kind of like at 20 I was useless, so nevermind.
Um, no, but then I got into, you know, the technical side of things and, um, Now I'm almost like too technical to the point where like, I kind of have to remind myself, Oh, actually, you know, you got to do marketing, you've got to do sales. You know, you got to spend a lot of time. If not, you know, I would argue more time or effort, you know, on, you know, selling customers, finding customers because without customers, you don't have a yes.
Yes. And I'm glad that you put it that way too, because as I'm building a business, my goal. Is to get to 90% of my time spent on marketing nine zero. Wow. Wow. So I'm not there at the beginning because I'm thinking about operational stuff and I'm thinking about, you know, get the website up and. You know, make sure that the credit card processing works.
And so all of that happens in the beginning and then there's other operational stuff as you take on customers, but I want to minimize that and get it right. And then don't have to think about it and then boost and get as close as possible to the 90% of my time for marketing. That's where that's where the money got from it.
Yeah, of course. I mean, duh. And are you, are you sort of, pre-selling people on your, your MVP in the sense that maybe you have like a signup form or you want people to like, you know, maybe pay money up front and get like the product, you know, weeks, uh, after are you doing something like that? Maybe walk us through the.
You know, the initial stage. Yeah. So for the initial stage, um, well I learned really quickly, and this is not even something that I've written on Twitter yet is a lot of people when they have a project that they're building on, they put up a landing page and it says like coming soon or something, right.
What I've learned is to skip that and instead put up your homepage, whatever you think in your homepage is going to look like, just do it. Just do it because one, it makes you do it. It makes you actually commit to the project, but by putting the homepage homepage up and to it, it feels for people like this is real.
This is happening, right? And then of course, three, that makes it easier for you to get them, to give you their email. I'll give you their, their, their cell number or whatever you want to collect as, as information. And then it also makes it easier for you to, if you have to work with suppliers or work with developers or work with designers or whoever you have to work with to make your business come alive, you can say, Hey, here's the project I'm working on.
And then that gives you a lot more credibility. And then they're more likely to want to work with you. So if, um, now I'm launching this new project, um, Jasmine get Jasmine and, um, yeah, you see the homepage is up. People are like super excited about it, but we're still building it, but we will not have this excitement if we have like a lunch rock coming soon page or something like that.
So that's the first thing that people I think people have to do. And then, um, I kind of want to use those emails that we collect. So funnel people into like a Facebook group or, um, and then also just give them multiple content, like almost daily content or every two days showing them the product as it's being built, getting their feedback and so on.
Um, and then when it's time to launch, folks are nurtured and excited and you're going to, you're going to get clients on day one, like guaranteed.
I'm I'm just I'm. I'm just, do you have like a, as they say marketing, speak like a lead magnet of sorts, like a, why would people give you the right? Um, yeah, so for me, the lead magnet, Is the idea of being able to use the product if the product is closely aligned to what people are looking for. So I don't necessarily, but it's a good idea though.
It's a good idea. If you have some type of lead thing that you can give away, but then I, I want people to sign up based on them wanting to be on the platform, wanting to use the product. Versus signing up because they got something for free, like an ebook or something. So I typically don't use a lead magnet at that point because I want a really high quality sign-ups.
Gotcha. Gotcha. And so how are you getting people to go to your website? Like in the first place. Yeah. So mad content Ru I even ended up on this call, but just putting up content. Yeah. So I, I, I sit back and say, okay, where like, who are my likely customers? First question, second question. Where are they likely to hang out?
Like where do they spend their time? Is it in forums? Is it on Reddit? Is it on this particular sub Reddit? Is it on Twitter? Is it on Instagram, LinkedIn where my ideal customer is where they spend their time. Then I say, okay, this is where they're spending time. Let me see the type of content that people on that particular platform like to enjoy.
What, what, what do they already like? And then my job now at that point is just to give them what they already like. And I give them what they like. I create, you know, content. I tell my story, I'm transparent. I find ways to agitate their pains. Like they, wherever their pain points are, I can kind of agitate them a little bit.
I can say, you know, these are the solutions that I'm currently working on and keep following me. And, um, and here's a link to the project that I'm working on that I think will be great for what, um, their challenges are. By all surrounds, um, content. Yeah. Okay. So would you stay, would you say then that, especially in the early stages, like the majority of your time is spent, you know, uh, cranking out content on the different platforms depending on where your customers hang out?
Yes. Yeah. That's where a lot of my time is spent, you know, after I get past. The like, like getting the homepage up, which I mentioned to you just now just going to the homepage up after that, I'm creating content every day and I'm thinking about, okay, if I create a piece of content for Twitter, I can also email those people that gave me their email as well.
And then if I create some content for email, I can also post it on Twitter and I can post it in the Facebook group because we always create a Facebook group for each company as well. Or maybe it will work on, um, uh, on Instagram as an image post that links back to the longer posts. I would just think about all those different platforms and what type of content works well for those platforms.
Don't worry happens. You still there. Yeah. Yeah. Okay, cool. Um, so yeah, so depending on the, on the, on the, on the platform, um, and, uh, do you ever do, um, like hand-to-hand combat and the sense that maybe you have, like, I don't know, the first 20 or 50 people signed up and you call them up one Oh one, something like that, or is it all internet based?
Um, so I have never done that, but here's what I have done. Um, I would, I earlier this year, especially at like, um, what I've been doing is having people come on zoom calls, but in a group. So I would say, you know what, I'm going to teach you something for the next 30 days or something. And, um, it's something that you really wants to learn and, and I'll go through day one through day 30.
The call is at this time every day, jump on. And then I, you know, that is, is quality content for them as well. I then, of course it ends with them needing to use, um, you know, one of our products to solve whatever problem they were on a call to solve in the first place. So that's how I typically do it with, with group calls.
Gotcha. Gotcha. And then, um, before I forget, um, one quick thing about the tech founder. Um, so they don't code at all in the beginning with your, with your SAS. So then do you start out with, I dunno, 5k or 10 K as like a budget for the, for the developers. And then they start, I don't know, going on Upwork and finding like developers.
Somewhere, maybe off shore. Is that how it works or how do you guys structure that? Yeah. So that's what I've been doing exactly that like 5k or so, you know, maybe 10 K and I find, um, Upwork has been amazing for me. I don't know, kind of, and now that I've done it so many times, It's pretty much the same team is each time.
But yeah, it started with at work and some investment. But if you are, if you're someone, one that has the development skills and you're building a software product, then you're good. I mean, you can get to your MVP. And get your first customers and go from there. But if you don't have development skills and you're not building the software product, you're also good because you can use something like Shopify, WordPress, the themes, um, theme, forest themes, um, and get started, but less than a hundred bucks.
So, so I feel like there's not really, there are no like immovable hurdles anymore to starting a business. Yeah, there's new excuses. Like if you want it, um, you're gonna, you know, have to go through a lot of pain and deal with a lot of shit anyways, regardless, but you know, you just have to keep moving forward if you really want it, you know?
Um, right. Like I'm sure you had to deal with so much, like shit that came your way. Wait, where you were like this also. Um, but. You know, you, you, you, you stuck with it and, and here we are, you know exactly. It's crazy right. Where it has been a crazy ride. Yeah. Cause, cause no, cause I'm just thinking actually let me, let me give you this one also.
So say someone just got laid off because of COVID right. And they don't have. And internet marketing background necessarily. Right. Where would you, and they want to make money on the internet? Where would you suggest they start? Um, yeah. So if it were so I'll, I'll just give you an example of what I did when I got laid off.
And I'm sure isn't that a real world example. So I was laid off the downturn around, um, the real estate market. I was working, doing accounting for essentially a real estate firm and people were getting laid off every single day. And my day came. And I got two weeks pay, that's it. Right. It's I had a mortgage and all of this stuff, so I had to make money and I have no time to play any games or like, you know, be sorry for myself.
So why I did it was like, okay. I knew that Craigslist was a platform where you can go and hire people. And it's also a platform where you can go and, um, find people that are looking for services to be performed. So you can find service providers, or you can find people that are looking for service providers, both on the same platform.
So I got a fire done on fiber that, you know, that said, um, we were looking to hire people that are like home cleaners or, or different services like that. And then I looked on the other side of Craigslist, looking for people that are looking to that, that had homes that needed home cleaners and needed lawn care guys and so on.
And then all they had to do was match those two people. So that was really how my first business started was just matching these people that they already are looking for each other, and I could be the middle person and I can make some money on each transaction. And that's how I started. Yeah. Beautiful.
And do you have some money saved up or do you get some, uh, some credit card debt real quick to, to start the business? No, I had 450 bucks. Um, so I had 450 bucks. I phoned the guy and I think it was the Philippines that did my website for me for life. It was a simple, simple website for like maybe $300 or something.
And, um, I paid on Fiverr, like $5 for, for the flyers I would post. And, um, and that was it. And I just kept, I was relentless. I would, I would be under every single day. So when a person said, um, Hey guys, I'm looking for a home cleaner for my three bedroom home in DC. I was the first to respond. Then I was like, yeah, we can definitely take care of that for you, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
And then all they had to do was find, um, a cleaner that, that was looking for clients. And that was it. So you, you, you, I couldn't call it platform arbitrage, um, in that. You are matching people that already want to be matched and there's money to be made. I even also do that in a cross-platform way, where you look for people looking for jobs on Thumbtack and you find them clients on Craigslist.
So you can do it across platforms or even within the same platform. Yeah. Yeah. Beautiful. Beautiful. Do you have any, um, sort of ask or, um, obviously we want to, you know, we want to use this moment to plug your, your newest venture, Jasmine. Um, but, and the website for that, obviously you're going to say in a, in a second, but other than that, do you have an ask or anything you want to, you know, tell the audience at all?
Anything that comes to mind? Um, no. Um, Um, the only other thing is I'm really enjoying Twitter now. So if folks were to check out, check out my Twitter, I'm like doing this 30 day series of posts on entrepreneurship and it's just on Twitter and it's just free. So if people were to follow me on Twitter, they can check those out.
Yeah. And we'll link your newest venture Jasmine, as well as actually maybe. Can you say, um, one or two sentences? What is your newest venture? Right? Why you started it? Yeah, so my those platform is called get Jasmine, um, G E T J A S M I N. Dot com. So getjasmine.com and. It's basically a platform, a marketplace for digital products.
So if, if you're a creative and you create art or you create eBooks or courses or anything like that, you can come on Jasmine and there's no like transaction fee, um, per, per sale is a flat rate and you can sell your products right on there. And I wanted to do it because I felt like there was a space to do it, and I didn't really enjoy the products that were already out there.
Um, and I kind of just wanted to build something that I would enjoy more and hopefully other people would enjoy it more as well. Yeah, totally, totally. And we'll link it below. Um, yeah, Rowan, um, as always, it's been a blast. Thank you so much for Kevin coming on the show, sharing your wisdom, especially you know, how to get started, how to market yourself successfully online.
Thank you again so much. And you know, I wish you a fantastic day and absolutely thanks so much for having me. This was a lot of fun. Thank you. Thank you. Bye.