Last Updated on February 25, 2021
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About David Pawlan
My name is David Pawlan, I am 24 years old and from Chicago, Illinois. I started Aloa in college with my Co-Founders, and after graduating from Vanderbilt in 2019, I went into the startup as my full-time role.
Last year, I was named as 25 under 25 in Chicago Tech.
To be honest, I don’t really have much else of a background to speak on! I am a young and hungry entrepreneur and know that I have a TON to learn, so for me, it is always about speaking to as many people as I can and learning as much as possible from those who have done it before me.
Aloa is a platform for outsourcing software development for startups. While in college, we were building out apps and doing student tech consulting ourselves. We wanted to expand our dev team so we began looking for resources. We looked domestically, but it was too expensive. We looked overseas, and everyone said to avoid it because of all the horror stories. To us, that didn’t make sense. Why have we figured out how to work with every other industry overseas, yet we haven’t been able to figure out a predictable and consistent experience for outsourcing software?
We believe in a world where anyone can innovate freely, and at this point, we see software development as a barrier to innovation for far too many. So, rather than trying to build a blanket solution, we studied the pain points themselves, and built out from there, falling in love with the problem of outsourcing software development itself.
We’ve approached this space slightly differently, through a three pronged approach: Aloa Partner Network, Platform, Strategist.
At the end of the day, we have continued to work and grow Aloa through an iterative process. We take our learnings from all of our experiences and apply them to every day as we move forward, to ensure that we continue innovating and pursuing our mission to create a world where anyone can innovate freely.
How Did You Get Your First Several Customers Or Users? How Many Users Or Customers Do You Have Now?
It’s actually an amazing story. My Co-Founder, Dawei Li, who heads up our Sales team, was driving for Lyft in our early days. On one of his drives, Dawei was speaking to his rider about Aloa and what we were doing. The passenger ended up needing software development help and resonated with all of the pain points that we were looking to mitigate.
A few weeks later, this passenger ended up being Aloa’s very first client!
Now, this wasn’t our main method, we didn’t rely on Dawei to drive around and hopefully pick up passengers who were in need of software development support.
We really hustled on our cold email campaigns, and that is how we closed the vast majority of our first clients.
In the early days, we were closing maybe one client a month, if that. Today, just over three years later, we have now worked on over 150 projects and have over 20 active clients.
How Does Your Company Grow And Acquire New Customers?
We see growth in two manners, the first being the growth of the core business itself, and the second being the growth of new innovation that helps further our mission of creating a world where anyone can innovate freely.
First looking at customer acquisition, our main channel is through referrals. We pride ourselves in the integrity of our service and always putting our clients first. Even if it means we have to take a hit, we are going to do our part to redefine the process of developing software and creating a seamless experience in innovating. Being able to grow our business organically, through referrals, has been a great validating point for us as well that we are onto something and going about our approach in the right way.
We also have began putting money towards advertisements, continuously working on our SEO, and building out content channels through our blog. We want to establish ourselves as an authoritative voice of our space, and through publishing content, we hope to provide more value to our customers in ways beyond just our service.
Second, we are always looking to innovate. We have a very important KPI (key performance indicator) that we reflect on each week, called Innovation Wins. It is always our goal to keep our eyes open for ways we can further innovate our own process, as well as innovate beyond our process.
Every week we are logging pain-points and reviewing them to figure out how we can mitigate those pain-points from occurring again in the future. We innovate based off those pain-points to strengthen our process and service to our customers. Furthermore, we always look to expand our business as well. For example, we were facing our own pain points when it came to invoicing. We realized that it was taking us a while to collect, we are getting hit on processing fees, and it was taking up the time of our sales staff.
As a business, if our sales team is getting their attention pulled away, we are losing money on fees, and are getting hit on liquidity due to long collections, that is harming our efforts to innovate. We had some clients who faced the same pain-points we did, so we are now spinning out a new business in the B2B invoicing space, AloaPay.
What Actionable Tips And Tricks Do You Have For New Founders Who Are Looking To Get Their First Thousand Users Or Dollars?
Have the “willingness to pay” conversation.
One of the hardest and most uncomfortable parts of starting a business is putting a price on your service, and sticking to it. It is important to have as many conversations as possible with people who would be potential users and ask them directly what they would pay to use a service/product like yours.
If you aren’t able to put yourself out there and have those uncomfortable conversations, you’ll continue on a pathway that dances around the hard questions rather than hitting them straight on.
You won’t get it right your first try! Hell, you may not get it right your 50th try. It isn’t easy. What matters is you document each conversation and continue to iterate until you start seeing results.
At some point though, you need to bite the bullet and start putting a price tag out there and iterate based off of your results.
What Is Something You’ve Learned That Would Not Be Obvious To Somebody Who Hasn’t Worked In Your Space Before?
Software bugs are normal.
It is a crazy concept to think that bugs, or glitches/malfunctions, in your program are a normal and common thing. You’d think that you are paying someone and therefore it should be perfect, but that is just not how code works!
Even Google and Amazon have entire teams dedicated to working through active bugs that appear throughout user interaction.
I like to explain it as a research paper. Think about it, if you write a research paper, it isn’t going to be necessarily perfect. There may be some typos, or even tougher to find, you may break from your sentence structure or parallelism between paragraphs. And then, when you want to add more pages to your research paper, you need to be sure that your tone of voice is maintained through any addition. Those additions may be at the end, or in the middle, or throughout the paper.
Bugs are normal; it is about setting proper expectations and having sufficient strategies in place to handle those bugs to ensure that they don’t deviate you from your roadmap.
What’s The Craziest Thing That’s Happened To You (Good Or Bad) On Your Founder Journey?
Wow, I have a great story for this one. Six weeks out of college I was backpacking through Southeast Asia, and after my trip, I went to India to visit some of our partner firms. I was ECSTATIC, so excited to be 22 years old and be actively engaging in international business on my own, for a company that I am part of the founding journey.
Well, while the meetings with four out of five of the partner firms went fantastic, the first couple days of my journey in India were an entirely different narrative. Long story short, I was stranded in Mumbai with no food, water, or sleep for almost 40 hours…all of this during the middle of the heaviest Monsoon India saw since 1970.
I ended up missing my first meeting, as I was just trying to survive (ended up avoiding multiple near death experiences). It is truly a wild story and one that I think back on frequently.
It’s Type 2 fun; it wasn’t fun during the experience, but it is definitely fun and mind-numbing to look back on.
What Are Your Favorite Books?
Non-Fiction: Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. Fiction: The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson.
Anything You’d Like To Plug?
Aloa (aloa.co)! If you are in need of software development, whether it be custom from scratch, staff augmentation/supplementation, we are here to help and show you a new method of outsourcing software that builds in consistency and predictability.
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Book summaries, notes, interviews, and more!
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