Peer-to-peer learning is not a new concept. But with the popularity of online learning platforms, like Skillshare and Udemy, it has become a viable option for entrepreneurs to make extra income by teaching what they know. A few have transitioned from casual side hustle to full-fledged business model. The “infopreneur”, a term coined in the 1980s by H. Skip Weitzen, is an entrepreneur who turns information into a revenue stream. This can be in the form of books, courses, lectures or consulting—in both the online and offline space. The most buzz seems to be around infopreneurs who have a track record of building successful companies or being noted experts in their field.
Tara Reed is one such founder. After launching a successful personalized art recommendation app (Kollecto) without using code, she garnered the attention of the TEDx selection committee and a growing number of non-technical entrepreneurs who had ideas. Over one hundred thousand YouTube views later, Tara is now the founder and CEO of Apps Without Code, a startup school that offers webinars, coaching and an intensive boot camp. The company helps entrepreneurs turn their app ideas into viable businesses. As transparent as she is knowledgeable, we talked about her experience of testing the waters with side projects, how important it is to not rely on scale to be successful and how vulnerability is a great business asset.
Shani Syphrett: When did you fall in love with entrepreneurship?
Tara Reed: I fell in love with it by accident. I was working at Microsoft and I really wanted to be able to create and lead my own projects. So I started launching side projects. And in 2014, I found out about a side project accelerator program in New York. But I lived in Seattle and wasn’t sure what to do. My partner, at the time, asked me what the point of having a cushy tech job was if I couldn’t fly to New York every week. So that’s what I did. I did the program on weekends and worked remotely on Mondays. Learning how to launch a business from that program (Orbital Boot Camp, led by Gary Chou) is how I fell in love with entrepreneurship.
Syphrett: And that side project turned into your first startup, Kollecto, that you launched without coding. What was the biggest lesson you took from that experience?
Reed: The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that there’s always a way to get something done, you just haven’t figured out how yet. It’s the foundation of how I built Kollecto. I assumed that there was some way for me to do it, even with the limitations of not knowing how to code. We are in an era where there are so many resources at your fingertips. Anyone can launch a startup or a company when you approach it in that way. I spent longer trying to figure things out because of my assumption that I just hadn’t found the solution yet. And I found many resources that I wouldn’t have if I’d known exactly what to do.
Syphrett: So the momentum was building withKollecto and you got invited to host a TEDx talk. How did you prepare for it and what came next?
Reed: When I did the TEDx talk I had already been blogging about my experiences, so it was a natural transition for me. After the talk, I got a lot of emails from fellow non-technical entrepreneurs who had ideas for apps but didn’t know how to build them. They were all looking for help. At first, I turned them down because I was building my own company. But the emails kept coming so I figured I could help these people by sharing more details from my journey. I sent an e-mail out to my blog subscribers, and list of people who had been e-mailing me, saying that I was going to try out a several week boot camp. It would be with five entrepreneurs and I would teach them how to build their apps without code. And the program immediately sold out.
I ran that first class with four entrepreneurs and thought it would be a side project. But when I launched it again, I had fifty-eight entrepreneurs sign up. At that point, I realized there was a business there. So Apps Without Code was born. It felt seamless for me because my interest in building companies has always been around launching things that I think should exist. And it followed the pattern of launching as a side project before vetting whether it’s a viable business.
Syphrett: How has building Apps Without Code been different from your first startup?
Reed: I teach a lot about business models in the AppsWithoutCode boot camp and there are a couple that I consider to be danger zones. Some of the danger zones are building low-priced apps or only taking transaction fees (like Uber or AirBnB). These business models have small profit margins so you need a large volume of transactions in order for the business to work. With Kollecto, I got caught up in the hype of the Uber and AirBnb business models and saw the cool 99 cent apps in the app store. So I thought I should do that too. And we were generating revenue but we were not exceptionally profitable.
One of the things I would have done differently was building a business model that could be really successful even when it was small. When you build something that’s not profitable from day one, you have to look for other alternatives to raise capital. More often, for startups, that leads to going after investors. I’ve taken a different approach with Apps Without Code. We don’t take on any investors. When we need money for something, we use our own profit to fund the business. And because we don’t have external investors or venture capital, we have a lot of flexibility. I get to share the profit with my employees. We’re building a different business from my first company and it’s centered around profitability and self-sustainability.