Building better founders and moving with purpose - Matthew Busel, Whalesync
“Putting yourself out there and being all in on something, pays a lot of dividends. When people see that you are committed it attracts other equally dedicated people.” - Matthew Busel
Matthew Busel is an entrepreneur's entrepreneur. The founder of two companies — both aimed at helping others meet their career and entrepreneurial goals – he is also a former Product Manager, and has authored a book on augmented reality. His most recent venture, Whalesync, is a platform “bringing calm back” to the work of no-code builders by connecting the disparate tools they use to streamline what can be an overwhelming process. We spoke with Matthew about his path to entrepreneurship, and the lessons he has learned along the way.
In conversation with Matthew Busel
What was your first experience with building a business?
Matthew: I had been thinking about starting a company since I was in college, by that point I had been building side projects for years. Most notably a bracelet brand and a travel information website.
Reflecting on what ‘counts’ as a business, Matthew commented on that the first project of his to be recognized by venture capitalists.
Matthew: Two and a half years ago, I built a side project that went through the Pioneer accelerator program. Through that experience, I realized that I was ready to do this full time.
Last year in January I quit my job and didn’t have a single idea that I was sure I was going to pursue. I didn’t have a co-founder yet, but knew I was ready to take the leap.
How different is your company today compared to its inception?
Matthew: When I originally started I was interested in a variety of areas like remote work and indeed no-code.
My co-founder and I started out with a front-end website builder. Since starting the company officially, we pivoted to now building a no-code data tool. With hindsight, there’s a clear path of how we got here, but where we are today is certainly not exactly what we imagined when we started out.
Where did you anticipate Whalesync would be today?
Matthew: Originally, we were trying to build a Squarespace or Webflow — the kind of website builder that would have made it easy for anybody to spit up a new website. In speaking to, initially dozens – and now hundreds — of people who consider themselves no-coders, we found that there were some ways that we could improve on the existing website building experience. Yes. But it was not actually the big problem.
The big problem for that group was: ‘How do I sync data?’ ‘How do I connect all these tools in a simple and easy way?’ We did not expect that at all, but it kept on coming up in our conversations, so we ultimately pivoted the company towards that goal.
What strategies have you used to grow and engage your customer base?
Matthew: In the beginning, we focused on direct touchpoints. I’ve now sent probably thousands of cold emails to people, but instead of blasting that out in some big batch, I’ve been sending them manually. I was looking up every person that I reached out to, and trying to understand deeply: ‘What would they get value out of from our tool?’ ‘Why is it relevant to them?’
We’ve since moved on from that. Now we’re moving into SEO and content marketing; but, at least with our current user base as it is today, it’s pretty much all from cold email.
For engagement, we have a Slack channel where all of our early users have direct access to us. We use the space to talk specifically about any issues or ideas they have. That has been tremendously influential on the product and long term strategy.
What strategies have you learned are necessary for building a successful start up?
Matthew: At each stage of the company so far — and hopefully there’ll be many more stages — what has been most important has varied.
At the very beginning, the thing I learned was that putting yourself out there and being all in on something — as opposed to dipping your toes and just seeing what happens — pays a lot of dividends. When people see that you are really committed to something it attracts other people who are committed. I attribute that to how I was able to find my co-founder, who is amazing.
Moving forward, the thing that we’ve always come back to is: ‘How do we ship things as quickly as possible?’ We’re tackling something which is really, really challenging technically. This makes us a little different to the average startup, but even in that, we’ve been trying to break it down to: ‘What can we deliver in a short period of time?’
What advice would you give to early stage startup founders?
Matthew: As a founder, there are so many things you could potentially be doing on a given day.
There’s so much external and internal pressure to keep churning out work and to move as quickly as possible, which is obviously a good thing, but just remind yourself to take a step back and always remember that just getting stuff done doesn’t get you anywhere. Thinking seriously about what is most important is what will pay off.
Want to go deeper on Matthew's lessons?
Matthew mentioned making the decision to pivot Whalesync's initial product. Hear from 3 more entrepreneurs on pivoting in the early stages. Find out how to load test your startup idea. Freshen up your approach to solving user problems with this 11 step guide. We're excited to continuing building on our collective knowledge. Message Esmé on Slack if you want to share your experiences on The Propeller.
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