From SoFi to Startup Acquisition: 3 Factors That Made My Startup a Success
Earlier this year, we launched the SoFi Entrepreneur Program to help our borrowers who have entrepreneurial aspirations refine their startup ideas, connect with mentors and potential investors, and develop the skills critical to getting early-stage funding.
Here, SoFi Entrepreneur Program graduate Benny Joseph shares his experience and fills us in on what’s happened since the program ended:
Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post about my experience with the SoFi Entrepreneur Program. I had recently joined the program to help launch my startup, GoodApril, after my co-founder and I had been unceremoniously rejected from incubator Y Combinator. At the time I was cautiously optimistic about the opportunity ahead of GoodApril. I was also pretty excited about the free SoFi t-shirt.
What a difference six months makes.
Two weeks ago, GoodApril was acquired by Intuit. The deal closed two days before our graduation from Techstars – in fact, we announced the good news to our fellow startups at the Techstars closing pitch day (you can see the video here). As the maker of TurboTax software, Intuit was a natural fit for GoodApril’s product, a year-round tax-planning software designed to help reduce users’ annual tax bills. Of course, this is the kind of success that every startup prays for, but never in a million years did I think it would come so quickly.
So what exactly happened between then and now? I’ve been thinking about how we got from cautiously optimistic in March to working for Intuit in August, and I think there were three key factors that really made the difference:
1) Let your vision be your anchor.
Every entrepreneur knows this, but it’s so crucial that it’s worth saying again – a lot of people are going to think that you’re crazy, and that’s okay. You’re trying to do something that there are so many reasons not to do. But as an entrepreneur, you have to be passionate enough about your vision to keep plugging away, even when you’re the only one who seems to believe in what you’re doing.
From the beginning, my co-founder Mitch Fox and I had a clear vision about our product. Neither of us are CPAs, but we both saw a huge gap in the tax planning market. Most people don’t do any tax planning throughout the year, then come April they file, cross their finger and hope for the best. Americans leave $22 billion of tax savings on the table every year simply because they neglect to do a minimal amount of planning. For us, this was crazy. We really believed our product needed to be in the world in order to solve this problem.
And that belief has been our anchor, the thing that motivated us to keep going despite all the negative feedback and rejection (and believe me, there was a lot of it). Plus, I think that our passion for our vision helped sell Intuit on the idea.
2) Surround yourself with people who can help you.
Again, it sounds like an obvious piece of advice. Every entrepreneur should know how important it is to seek advice and mentoring early and often. But I think this is something Mitch and I were particularly dogged about, and the payoff was huge.
First, make sure you surround yourself with people who are willing to tell you the truth – good and bad. Some of our best advisors were the people who told us what we were doing wrong, and that helped us course-correct quickly and focus on what was important.
Also, the best input and advice will rarely come to you. Time and time again, we had to approach people we didn’t know to ask them for their help and insights. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t comfortable, but over time we built relationships with the right people – the ones who had experience and expertise we knew we needed. Their feedback has been invaluable.
3) Execute really, really well.
I think one of the things that impressed Intuit was our ability to get so much done with so few resources. For example, early on we figured out how to get mentioned in the press, and pretty soon we were seeing articles about GoodApril 1-2 times a week.
We also moved really fast. Before building the second version of our product, we spent two weeks just talking to potential customers and mentors, honing our ideas. Once we did our homework, we could move forward with the confidence that we knew what had to be done. After that, the product only took us eight weeks to build.
The SoFi Entrepreneur Program
When I look back at my time in the SoFi Entrepreneur Program, I see that it really prepared me to take advantage of what was to come. The student loan deferment, which gave me runway to get my business off the ground, and the mentors and potential investors I was introduced to – all of these things were factors in GoodApril’s eventual success. By the time we got to Techstars, we had honed our pitch to the point where it was almost done. Most of our fellow founders hadn’t even started theirs.
At the end of the day, I’m most grateful to SoFi for helping me craft the GoodApril story. No one can believe in your idea if you don’t have a compelling pitch, and by the time I left SoFi, I felt the story I had to tell was game-changing. Turns out, it really was.
Benny Joseph is the Founder of GoodApril, an online tax planning and advice service. He was the lead engineer of the math engine that powers E*TRADE’s multiple award-winning trading platform and the Product Manager behind Zecco Mobile (now TradeKing Mobile), the highest rated online brokerage mobile app on both iOS and Android. He kills his stress training in mixed martial arts (MMA) and is an avid poker player. You can follow him and GoodApril on Twitter: @bvj and@goodapriltax.
Are you an aspiring entrepreneur with student loans? Find out more about the SoFi Entrepreneur program here. It’s your business idea, powered by the SoFi Community.