As a 24 year old with an 8 figure tech startup with over 30 full time employees, I am eternally overwhelmed with gratitude and disbelief at the opportunities I’ve been afforded. Considering the delta between where I (and Viral Launch) sit now and our current trajectory compared to our humble beginnings, I find it hard to believe that anyone could have anything but extreme gratitude and humility, not to mention a deep sense of obligation to be a good steward of all we have been blessed with.
The intention behind sharing this story is three fold:
1) to elicit inspiration in you, the reader. We all aspire to greatness in some form or another. We all, at some point in our lives, set out to achieve our dreams and leave our positive mark on the world. Many become distracted with life’s comforts or are stifled by fear of failure (and perhaps just as frequently, our primordial being’s fear of success). I hope to show that by sheer perseverance and an open mind to the unknown, you too can see your wildest dreams come to fruition. I believe that entrepreneurs and their companies (including each employee), are the ones creating the greatest impact on the world. I want to do everything in my power to inspire and equip those “born-to-be entrepreneurs” to reach their full potential.
2) to help illustrate to our customers the principles we have built our company upon; to show the constructs driving our every decision. There is a lot of untruth and shady characters posing as nobility with the intention of making a quick buck in the Amazon seller space. I want to work harder to distance ourselves from these malicious players.
3) (selfishly) as an expression of thanks. Thanks to the higher power I believe has brought me here (God in this case). Thanks to the friends and family that supported me along the way. Thanks to the amazing team that is the real driving force behind our success. And perhaps immaturely, those that doubted me along my journey. One of my biggest motivators is the doubt of others; especially people in “power” 😉 I love trying to prove people wrong. As is a common theme, the trials and tribulations are the times in which we grow the most. So thank you to those that doubted along the way. To those that made the journey that much more difficult, I thank you for helping fuel my deep desire for growth, improvement, and success.
I think it is very important to stipulate that I, in no way, feel that I have yet “made it”. I want to make sure that the tone of this post is not that of… “I am super successful and have everything figured out so therefore you should listen to what I have to say”. Quite the contrary. By nature, I have a very difficult time with confidence. My mind believes that in every scenario there are infinite possibilities. I think confidence is quite intimidating because it can be so blinding at times. This is not a post of retrospective reflection on my path to “success” because of my “brilliant actions.” This is a post of documentation around the incredible journey I’ve been blessed to find myself on. (To be quite frank, I have a hard time believing that it has been my decisions that have led me here.) This is a post of appreciation around what I have, and further, what I (and Viral Launch) am striving to be, and how you may also be able to find yourself on such an incredible journey.
Three Years Ago Today I Had $50 In My Bank Account
Three years ago today (at 21), I had $50 in my bank account and owed money on my credit card. My younger brother was gone for months for his construction job, which allowed him to pay our rent, our bills, and for our food. My girlfriend at the time (now wife; yeah I’m lucky to have found such a supportive one ;)) was helping to support me by purchasing essentials like deodorant and “swiping” me into her college cafeteria. I had deferred student loans as long as possible and my first payment was lurking on the horizon. Because we couldn’t afford to spend much on our heating bill, it was freezing in our apartment and my hands were so cold that I was unable to type. I resorted to cutting holes in some old athletic socks so my fingers could poke through. I called them my “hacker gloves” and they actually worked surprisingly well. I couldn’t look to my parents to help me out either. Just a month prior, my mom had her car repossessed and was evicted from her house (not so uncommon for us growing up). My dad was going through a rough second divorce. I was coding 16+ hours a day building the original Viral Launch platform wearing my winter coat in candle light (for both light and warmth) with my hacker gloves in our little apartment in the humble town of Marion, Indiana. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the origin of Viral Launch.
This day is so important to me because on December 18, 2014, I convinced my then co-founder to allow us to pay ourselves from the revenue we had generated for the first time.
That first $600 payout felt like $10,000!!! 🤑
A Quick Backstory
I’d like to first provide some context as to how my brother and I arrived in Indiana, how I found myself, a college dropout, coding with socks on my hands, and how the concept for Viral Launch came about.
While studying business and running track at a small Christian college in Indiana, I taught myself how to code at night. Midway through the second semester of my junior year I was developing demo iOS apps around a new technology called iBeacon. As a quick aside about me, I love learning! I try to read everything! In my business classes, my professors were teaching principles that contradicted what the Fortune 500 executives were preaching in my readings. I felt the things my professors were teaching had lost relevance in the fast moving techno-business environment we all find ourselves in. I felt like class and track were getting in my way of my learning and my ability to push the boundaries of iBeacon technology and application. I had also developed extreme guilt around running track. I felt like I was working so hard only to benefit myself while there were so many out there that I could help if I spent the same amount of time and effort enabling them somehow. For those reasons I dropped out with no plan other than to keep chasing my dreams, diving further into learning, and building great tech!
I moved back to Jackson, Michigan, the small classic midwestern town where I grew up, for a few months. It was at this time that my brother, Corey, and I decided to move back to Indiana on money he had saved delivering pizzas. He needed to leave Jackson to get out of trouble, and I wanted to be in the same town in which I had gone to college. We were just a couple of brothers carrying each other through life as we had throughout our rough upbringing. 😍 💪
How Viral Launch Came To Be
So the unsexy truth about how Viral Launch came to be is that there was no awe-inspiring lightbulb moment where the idea struck me out of an insatiable need for my own service. No “scratch your own itch” story that so many great companies have been founded upon. The truth is that it wasn’t my idea at all. I hardly even understood the fact that what you purchased on Amazon largely isn’t produced by Amazon at all. To this day, I’ve still never even sold anything on Amazon.
A former trackmate of mine, Jordan, was selling on Amazon and was making great money after just a month or two of being live on Amazon.com. It was this trackmate and friend that had the brilliant idea behind Viral Launch. Fortunately for me, he knew about my love for tech and had always wanted to start a business with me. Despite my lack of initial interest, Jordan continued to push the idea. He mentioned the possibility of making $10,000 per month with little effort. He promised to handle the Amazon side, while I built the platform. I saw this as a great opportunity for me to make money while I continued to focus on my iBeacon business.
So with Jordan taking 60% of Viral Launch, and I 40%, we set off.
Naturally, I default to a work ethic turned to insane mode. While Jordan (my co-founder) was having fun running track and hanging out with friends, I inequitably, and almost as a precursor to the next three years, spent every waking moment pushing to improve Viral Launch for our customers. Out of his good will, Jordan decided we should be equal in equity and moved me up to 50%. 🙂
From Passionless to Changing Lives
Around 8 months into Viral Launch, I had essentially taken full control over the business (although not yet, technically). As is common for me, I began feeling as though I were only running Viral Launch for my own benefit. The money was great, but I felt like I was only helping those with money make more money. Money and wealth is not of much interest to me. I view my life’s purpose as needing to help enable those that haven’t had the amazing opportunities I’ve had. I would much rather help those unable to help themselves: the disadvantaged, than those trying to make smart investment decisions with their excess cash.
So for a month or two I planned on bringing in someone that could run Viral Launch while I worked on my next project that would be focused on the underprivileged. I also felt it was impossible for a non-internet marketer to have success in a market where marketing far out trumps great product. (I’m a tech/product guy, not at all an internet marketer).
It was at this time, however, that a few of the entrepreneurs Viral Launch helped had incredible success stories they shared with me. This had a significant impact on my mindset and the amount of gratitude I had for the position I had now found myself in.
Here are a few of the stories that curiously all came in in the span of a couple of weeks:
- A dad whose young son had just been diagnosed with a mental illness had sold his truck to start an Amazon private label business in hopes that he would be able to quit his job to spend more time with his son. Viral Launch was able to give his business the tools and guidance needed to achieve success.
- An entrepreneur had taken some loans out to try to get their Amazon business off the ground. After things hadn’t gone as well as he had hoped, he quickly found himself and his family in financial trouble. Thanks to the Viral Launch platform, he was able to make enough money to pay off his loans and continue to build his business. He couldn’t thank me enough.
- A husband and wife had sought to be entrepreneurs for years, however, nothing seemed to click. No matter how hard they tried or how many resources they poured into the business, success remained so distant. After a few months of working together, they had really hit their stride and were making over $10,000 a month in profit. More importantly, they had finally proven to their friends, family, and themselves that they too could be successful entrepreneurs.
I realized that Viral Launch was helping entrepreneurs of all kinds achieve their dreams, and how fortunate I was to get to be even a small part of that. Some of our clients were using portions of their profits to give to charitable causes. By extrapolation, I began to see that Viral Launch had become an incredible opportunity to have an amazing impact on the world. It may just have not been as direct as I had originally envisioned.
It was also at this time I realized how much I had learned in the last 8-12 months. I’m so passionate about learning. One, because I just enjoy it. And two, because I know that each bit of information I obtain improves my overall perspective, making me that much more capable of helping the next person. I had learned an insane amount by running everything myself initially – from building a scalable tech platform, to managing tens of thousands of customers (from our coupon base), to navigating traditional business principles.
All of the sudden I had realized what an incredible opportunity God had provided out of a reluctant decision to make some money on the side.
After a year into our existence, I pushed my co-founder to sell his half of the business to me. Out of a desire to continue running track and enjoying college, as well as to give Viral Launch what it needed (a dedicated leadership), he agreed to the buyout!
I found myself the sole owner of a growing tech company, learning a tremendous amount each day and having a significant impact in the lives of entrepreneurs. I was humbled. I was in awe. And I was completely filled with gratitude.
This is when I knew that I had to push Viral Launch as far as I could. I’m obligated to.
If you knew that every moment you spent working on your business you would impact an exponential number of lives, how could you possibly concede doing anything but?
This is the mindset I find myself in every day and it’s the force driving my unending energy and excitement around what we are doing here at Viral Launch! I hold this fact with insistent gravity and magnitude.
The Launchpad to Success
Our company’s mission, our “why”, is to be the launchpad to success for our clients and our employees. (If you haven’t seen Simon Sinek’s video on “why”, I highly suggest it. It’s part of our onboarding 🙂 ).
One of the vital characteristics required to join the Viral Launch team is compassion for people. You must genuinely care about helping people to be a member of the team. This allows us to create a team that is driven not financially, but by the impact we have on the lives of our customers.
It’s this mission that dictates our product roadmap and how we prioritize the order in which we build those tools/services. While there are plenty of software “tools” we could build that would be great additional revenue boosters, we are focused on solving the most impactful issues our customers face throughout their Amazon seller journey.
Each week at our all-team meeting, I select a topic for the team to focus on for the week, whether that be ingenuity, discipline, efficiency, etc. I then get to tie that topic into our “why” and how our customers are depending on us to engender “topic XYZ” to impact their lives. It’s always motivating and a great reminder for why we’ve decided to show up to the office so early on a Monday morning.
One positive externality is that it also creates a fantastic work environment devoid of egos (although I guess if you are going to work for a 24 year old whose only real job was at McDonald’s while in high school, there is little room for ego anyways lol).
The Journey Is Rough But It Makes Us Who We Are..Enjoy It
So how did we get to be a 30+ person company (we’re currently hiring ~10 positions if you’re interested 😉 ), helping tens of thousands of Amazon sellers along their journey to success – all without raising venture capital or taking on an ounce of debt?
One of my biggest blessings is my work ethic. This helped me have success in athletics in high school and college, and has been amplified in business.
For the last three years, no matter how many people we have on the Viral Launch team, I consistently put in insane hours. (So much so that in our early days, I rarely ate and developed a chronic stomach sickness that causes me to randomly get sick throughout the day and when I exercise if I don’t take medication.)
As a blueprint for “work hard” for those wondering…
- 6:30 am Wake up and head to the gym
- 8 am Head to the office
- 6:30 pm Head home
- 7-8 pm Dinner with my wife
- 8:30 pm Back on my laptop for work
- 12:30-2:30 am Head to bed (depending on that night’s project..)
- Friday and Saturday night – reserved for time with my wife.
- Saturday – I sleep in, head to the gym then to a coffee shop to work
- Sunday – church in the morning, then work!
Every week roughly follows this plan, although there’s been plenty of occasions where “Head to bed” doesn’t quite happen. (And I’m still not 100% on waking up every morning. When I’m up super late it makes it a bit difficult to wake up for the gym 😉 )
A lot of people become concerned about “burn out”. 1) I generally think people like to make excuses for themselves which I work hard to avoid, and 2) thankfully, I’m so passionate about what we’re doing at Viral Launch and so full of gratitude that I rarely get the feeling of “burn out.”
By consistently putting one foot in front of the other, no matter how difficult it is to take that next step.
In our early days, attending conferences was rough. I get it. I was a 22-23 year-old talking about a “startup” few had ever heard of, let alone used. People would closely relate us to other services in our space although our value proposition was quite different. Rejection was common but I continued to show up and build relationships.
Especially in our early days, we were by far the underdog. However, day in and day out we provided better customer service, better results, a better overall experience, and at a better price. For two years we fought to take market share bit by bit.
Now we own the majority of the market share 🙂
Throughout the last few years, we’ve had plenty of betrayal from industry “friends,” competitors slandering our name, scammers ripping off our website, bad investments (you would not believe the amount of money you “burn” when you like trying “everything” lol), poor hiring decisions, sleepless nights trying to hit deadlines, missed deadlines, and so much more! It’s a roller coaster of emotions to say the least.
You will encounter so many hurdles, even in the span of a week, let alone your life. It’s your determination to continue to execute and put one foot in front of the other, no matter the circumstances, that will allow you to reach success.
Focusing on Thinking Long-Term
I think the major plague of the Millennial generation is not that of a lack of work ethic, but a lack of long-term vision.
Scarcely do people really take the time to step back and align their short-term decisions with their long-term ambitions. Few sit down and chart out their path to success. Most make their decisions off the cuff which leads to short-sighted money chasing that ultimately leads to little long-term gain.
A story of long-term thinking triumphing over the short-term brings us to a conference in early 2016. I participated on a panel with the CEOs of a few highly revered services in the Amazon seller community. I found myself at odds with the three other CEOs on the main topic. Essentially, I felt they had built their companies on a short-term strategy. They obviously thought I was wrong and made that known to the audience of at least two hundred people. At the time, I was a lot less confident in my own knowledge and beliefs, let alone my ability to convince the room of my position. I walked out of the room feeling defeated and disappointed in my self-confidence. However, I was unwavered in my overall position on the topic of ABC being a transient / short-term strategy. Despite the allure of the opportunity for quick money by going down the short-term path, Viral Launch remained focused on the long-term and around 8 months later, we were proven correct. Amazon made a major systemic change completely wiping that short-term strategy out of the realm of possibility. Overnight, two of those three companies had to lay off many employees, one of which had to close their doors completely for a few months, later to return as a near replica of Viral Launch. Meanwhile, the day after Amazon’s major update, Viral Launch experienced a record for largest single day of new customer growth.
Had we fallen into the same trap of chasing the quick money with disregard for the long-term, we likely would have fallen to the same fate.
This is just one such example of how playing to the long-term has been a major contributor to our growth. We see the compounding effects of our strategy play out each day and will continue to be one of our greatest competitive advantages among our competitors.
I cannot encourage you enough to delay gratification for the long-term glory. Rome/Amazon/Apple/etc. wasn’t built in a day, and nor will your dreams.
Enjoy the journey and focus on the end goal.
By Being True To Ourselves
I think we generally all set out with the intentions of achieving something great, however, if you’re not careful and extremely intentional about remaining true to your mission, it’s easy to lose yourself chasing after money.
I once heard a saying that, “the devil works in the margins.” I think this is generally spot on. It’s the “slippery slope” situations where a seemingly inconsequential omission or deception transcends overtime into cheating thousands out of their money and their dreams for your own gain. I’ve seen this time and time again among the “leaders” in our industry.
A simple and common example in our industry is misinformation around success tactics. Imagine an industry “guru” lays out how they made “millions of dollars selling on Amazon.” They include a walkthrough detailing how they achieved success, including using their own service. However, the “guru” leaves out a few of the key details because they don’t want all of their secrets to get out or because a few of those details would lead to the audience using a competitor’s service. From the “guru’s” perspective, it doesn’t seem like a big deal to leave out a couple of details; they did after all tell their audience nearly everything they need to know about how to “make millions of dollars”. They just left out a few small details so their competition doesn’t get more traffic. What they don’t realize is that a big portion of their audience is going to replicate the process and expect similar results. When they don’t achieve those same results, they are going to think they are doing something wrong rather than the “guru” having shared bad information. So what we see happening is the trusting follower tirelessly tries to make the tactic work that has supposedly worked for so many others. In some scenarios, the seller only has so many available resources to get their business off the ground. If attempts one, two, and three don’t work, they have to close up shop and go back to their day job.
We’ve seen similar situations happen countless times, where in our world, everyone wants to be a “guru” but has little qualification or integrity to be such. We have also seen hundreds of businesses fail because they’ve built their businesses off of the empty words of industry leaders, too focused on self-gain to care about the consequences of their words and actions.
It is actually quite an intimidating concept when you accept it. It’s so easy to make a small decision for your own gain at the expense of another. The scary part is that it can so quickly snowball into something that wreaks far greater havoc.
Unfortunately, there are becoming fewer and fewer folks in the Amazon seller community I would be proud of being associated with, and I imagine a similar situation can be found across the business world as a whole. So many lose themselves chasing after growth and money that they become blind to the trail of shattered dreams and failed businesses they’ve left in their wake.
Fortunately for us as a company, we are more driven by our impact on others than we are by money. This has allowed us to run from the margin and stay true to our core mission, to be the launchpad to success for our clients!
In any situation, it is not as simple as choosing the moral versus immoral decision. Any decision with even a hint of non-morality, you need to run as far from as possible. Be the opposite of the market. Be overly moral.
The key is to never venture into the margin.
Being Intentional and Saying No Often: AKA Opportunity Cost
As entrepreneurs we see endless opportunity in the world. Now that I have the brilliant, ambitious team that I do, they also see tons of opportunities. I generally see it as my job to turn down the majority of the exciting ideas, that are usually great, but would distract us from our overall long-term mission.
There are so many things you could do, but only a few you should do.
The trick is to say “no” often so you can focus on the big ticket projects. The projects that will really define you and your company.
Daily, my Director of Product and I have to make opportunity cost calculations around which features to include/add to any one of the tools we have running or in the works today. A feature could be “really cool” but may take two days of development time. A day may not sound like a long time, but when you add up 10 “really cool” features, you find yourself a whole work month (there are generally 21 work days in a month) away from your next “great” project.
I cannot emphasize enough how important an understanding of opportunity cost is when you are an entrepreneur (and likely for non-entrepreneurs, but I have only ever been an entrepreneur, so therefore do not know how important opportunity cost may be to you lol).
I also think it is extremely important to be intentional about those you spend your time with and those you associate yourself with. This impacts your reputation, your perspective on the ecosystem you are working to have an impact on, and so much more. The wrong influence can lead to poor decisions and lost opportunity.
Success is relative. Success, to you, likely means something different than it does to me. And it’s “success” that I hope to have inspired you towards; no matter how small the change.
To me, success is about giving every ounce of energy towards having a positive impact on the lives of others and learning along the way so I can help even more tomorrow.
Somehow, through all of the above events and decisions (and insane amount of blessing/luck/whatever you call God), I’ve found myself on a successful journey, and my hope is that by reading about mine and Viral Launch’s story, you’ll be that much more inspired to find your own path to success.
Just remember to enjoy the journey. To fight through failure and adversity as it only makes you stronger and wiser. To make decisions for the long-term. To focus on others. And to work insanely hard for what you’re passionate about every waking moment.
The payoff is more fulfilling and rewarding than you can ever imagine.
Thank you for reading, and thank you if you are one of the many that have made this journey possible. 🙂
I wish you all the best!
(Interesting? If you know me at all, I THRIVE off of feedback. Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments or however else you want to get it to me. I’d really appreciate it! 🙂 )
Latest posts by Casey Gauss (see all)
- Viral Launch Origins: A Story of Entrepreneurial Inspiration & Humble Beginnings - December 18, 2017
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- Amazon Product Research: Interpreting and Analyzing Market Data - April 25, 2017