Sramana Mitra: How many of these 300 that you talked to converted into actual customers?
Brandon Levey: Maybe one or none. This was more than two years before building the initial product. I came back from Las Vegas completely dumbfounded that this is the way the world was working. I just needed to talk to more people to find out if this was just a one-time thing or if this is the way the world was. From my perspective, the answer was this is the way the world was.
Sramana Mitra: How did you get the company going? What were the next steps besides getting your friends to move out to San Francisco?
Brandon Levey: Getting Michelle to move out was big. In the fall of 2010, a former roommate of mine was finishing his MBA. I was talking to him about what he was doing after that. Eventually, he, I, and his wife agreed that he was going to leave his full time job and come on to Stitch to help with existing customers. He joined at the end of January, 2011.
I mentioned that story of the trade show and the carbon paper. There was about a two-year gap in there. During that time, the idea for Stitch existed but it got in the vine because I got really busy with my work in Sandia. That’s when it was rekindled at the beginning of 2010. It was in January 2011 when Michelle and I finished the initial beta product.
Over the next 11 months, Jake and I would go to every street fair we could go to and just talk to people. Any time a customer had a feature request, I would just build it right away. That’s the way it worked. That’s how we got our first 20 customers. At that time, they were paying us, on average, $12 a month.
Sramana Mitra: What was your customer acquisition strategy?
Brandon Levey: We didn’t have one. Technically, we did. Over a three-year time span, my total gross take home was $75,000 from August 2010 to August 2013. It’s basically the same for Jake and Michelle too. We were really strapped for cash. We had also convinced Michelle to drop out of grad school. I was paying her through my personal savings that I had left so she can afford to pay her rent. It was a really big decision.
We spent $150 on post cards that Michelle designed. We got 500 of them. We would go to these street fairs and hand them out and try to get phone numbers. Then, we would call them. It was very manual but it was a beautiful experience because that was when we kept hearing Etsy over and over again. Occasionally, we’d hear Shopify. We didn’t even know what it was. If we didn’t do any of that ground work before, we would never have gotten to where we are today.