My Story From Studying Engineering to Entrepreneur, Investor, and CEO
My career journey has been a wild, crazy, unexpected ride. I was good at math and science, so I convinced myself to study engineering at Georgia Tech. That was just what you do, and I enjoyed it.
Upon entering the workforce and doing internships; however, I realized just how boring and monotonous the corporate world could be, especially as an engineer – the same thing day after day.
Becoming an entrepreneur
I realized fast I wasn’t like everyone else. There was no way I was going to have a boss, follow directions etc… I needed variety; I needed independence. So I started my own business (on the side at the time).
I’m a big fan of podcasts. I have learned a great deal about many things by specifically seeking out knowledgeable podcasters to supplement my understanding. From e-commerce to online marketing, Amazon’s marketplace to angel investing, I attribute a great deal of my success and intellectual flexibility to surrounding myself virtually with the best of the best.
But in business, we all make mistakes. I certainly made a few. I started a dropshipping business years after it was popularized. I tried again when the first failed, not realizing that timing was the bigger of my mistakes.
Then there was podcasting
The first podcast I started was a terrible idea. It was called Business and Bootstrapping and covered non-venture scale businesses/startups. The topic was so broad that it never got traction. But from that moment on, I realized the power of podcasting.
Realizing I needed a niche, I jumped into crowdfunding in early 2013 (still very early in the development). Thanks to early traction, my show, Art of the Kickstart, became the #1 crowdfunding podcast and excitingly successful… There was just one problem, money. I hadn’t even considered a business model. The audience wasn’t large enough for advertising; clients were a pain to work with and often flaked, and crowd funders didn’t buy the courses and books I created. It turns out when people want you to help them raise money; they don’t have jack to pay you with.
(NOTE: I later sold the crowdfunding podcast to a marketing agency.)
I was talking to a friend in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) at the time (side note: throughout this time, I had been traveling Southeast Asia – mainly Thailand and Vietnam) and realized I should kickstart/create my own product. I designed a laptop case that opened into a standing desk and was ready to go. I had contacts with a bamboo manufacturer in Hangzhou and headed there to begin prototyping.
Manufacturing in China
Living in China was tough. Hangzhou is a very Chinese city, and I lived on the outskirts with some guys I’d found online. Only one of my three roommates spoken any English (only a little). As I’d walk by, kids would run to the window. I was the only white outsider they’d ever seen. It was quite an experience.
And throughout this time, I was working hard. The problem with manufacturing is it takes time. After delivering revised designs, it would take 2-3 weeks to have a new prototype. Living in a lonely city where I couldn’t communicate (maybe 5-10% of people spoke English), I dove deeper into entrepreneurship. I had friends raving about selling on Amazon (this was 2015). Sellers were doing $500k, $1M, $10M etc……, just manufacturing products in China and rebranding them. I figured if they could do it, so could I. I jumped in, listened to all the relevant podcasts, roughly followed a course, and was off to the races. My Chinese friend happened to be a sourcing agent, and with Alibaba and a bit of hustle, I started getting samples of products to sell. After maybe two months, it was off to the races.
Know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em
My Amazon business took off fast. I employed all the tricks (gray hat and all) and invented new ways for ranking and selling faster. Suddenly this little outdoors business began eating my time. The standing desk was forgotten, more products launched, and the business scaled.
I started a no-holds-barred podcast detailing my Amazon journey. FBA ALLSTARS quickly became a top 3 FBA podcast. By sharing my tips, tricks, and software, which helped me scale my business, I built a following and earned a bit of affiliate money and ad revenue. This allowed me to reinvest 100% of profits into the business.
As a hyperbole tagline for the podcast, I said, “Step One to 7 Figures,” the idea being to sell the business after a year for $1M. I never thought I’d get close, but eventually, I committed to it. I pushed hyper-growth and managed to hit the goal, selling the business shortly after the one year mark.
Always be learning
I could have coasted at this point. I had a decent following and reputation helping Amazon sellers, but it was boring. After selling, my focus was already on to new projects. I had enough money to be able to focus on things that actually mattered. So that is what I did.
I got into investing because it can be the best of both worlds: the ability to work with and help incredible entrepreneurs change the world and the ability to be handsomely rewarded.
I believe startups and entrepreneurship are the keys to innovation and prosperity. Governments and corporations are failing in these regards. The more talent and money we can deploy into innovative ideas and startup endeavors, the better for all of us.
So as you may have guessed, I started a podcast. The Syndicate is one of the few podcasts focused on angel investing. It selfishly allows me to connect with and learn from the top angel investors and venture capitalists across the world and share their lessons learned with any and everyone interested in startups.
Piggybacking off this, I recently launched an investor syndicate where accredited investors are able to invest alongside myself and my business partner in interesting early-stage companies. By pooling capital together, we can all access better investment opportunities at better terms. We’re working on growing this as we speak to be able to help fund more transformational tech companies going forward.
As important as empowering startups and entrepreneurs is, I believe there is a bigger problem in society: short term thinking/incentives. People rarely consider the results of their actions and often fail to think big enough.
I’m on a mission to shift the way humanity contemplates its future. It takes about the same amount of effort to achieve X or 100X; the only difference is your mindset.
This is the mission behind FringeFM, my biggest, boldest, and most important project to date. FringeFM is like a long-form TED with the world’s smartest and most influential scientists, futurists, politicians, and philosophers, discussing the direction and ethics of our collective future. We have the conversations that no one else will to solve the big problems of today and share insight and perspective to the masses. When the only vision you have of the future is Hollywood dystopia, it becomes hard to envision a better life. Well, we create the future we envision. FringeFM is here to help us all envision (and build) a better, brighter future.
Advice for anyone
You can accomplish great things. There are no rules. There are no limits. If you see a problem in the world, you can fix it.
The world is changing faster than any of us realize. Powers once reserved for governments or massive corporations are being democratized for all of us. A single individual or idea can ignite a movement.
So that is the challenge for you.
- What are you doing with your life? Why?
- What is your driving force?
- How will you leave this rock better off?
- Why do you do the things you do?
- What would it take to 10x or 100x your results, your life?
That is a lot of questions. I don’t have answers. Neither do you, yet. But take a second, think. We’re all so busy, running here and there, we rarely take the time to consider the consequences of our actions or the direction of our life.
You are your actions… who will you be?
Matt Ward is an angel investor, serial entrepreneur, startup advisor, speaker, consultant, futurist, growth hacker, hustler, and author focused on helping startups change the world. The best way to reach him is on Fringe.FM or Twitter @itsmattward
PROMOTING ABUNDANCE: Matt is the founder, CEO, and host of Fringe.FM, a podcast exploring the edges of human understanding and exponential technologies to create a more abundant, long term focused future. Imagine TED level speakers and thought leaders taking an hour plus to unpack and dissect the future with a focus on innovation and creativity, and that is FringeFM – http://fringe.fm
STARTUP INVESTING: Matt is the founder and GP of The Syndicate, a podcast and angel group focused on early-stage investing, which syndicate promising deals to a group of accredited investors. Find out more about The Syndicate thesis and philosophy here – http://thesyndicate.vc/thesis
ADVISING: Matt currently advises six promising startups on growth, business development, and strategy, e-commerce, and fundraising – http://mattward.io
CONSULTING: Occassionally, Matt works with interesting companies, helping them with growth, network effects, business optimization, marketing, and more. Feel free to reach out if you may be interested.
WRITING: Matt writes for a number of large publications and has been featured in Mattermark Daily, The Next Web, Inc, Venture Beat, ThinkGrowth, The Startup, Hackernoon, and numerous other publications. He focuses on technology, building startups, growth hacking, e-commerce, and crypto: http://medium.com/@mattwardio
FOUNDER: Matt has built and sold three e-commerce companies, two focused on Amazon, and have strong experience with marketplaces and network effects.