Ruben Gamez is the solo founder of Bidsketch , an online proposal software website for web designers. In only a year and a half, he managed to take Bidsketch from a humble side project that he started while having a full-time job to a full-time business that allowed him to quit his job and enjoy the freedom he has always desired. How did he do that? Today, Ruben shares his story with 1WD readers.
1. Ruben, maybe you could start by telling us more about Bidsketch? What it’s about and how does it help designers?
Creating proposals are one of the most effective but painful things designers have to do. In fact, even though it’s one of the best ways to get clients, some designers will skip this step because it can take so much time. I created Bidsketch to be the fastest (and easiest) way to create professional looking proposals. The reason it exists is to cut down on the time it takes to create a proposal.
2. I assume that in order to build something like that, you have to know a lot about web design and freelancing. What is your professional background? What were you doing before Bidsketch took off?
Years ago I was a freelance web designer and became pretty good at building relationships and getting referrals to get work. I eventually got a job managing the web development department for a company because I grew tired of always having to find new client work.
Managing the web development department I was often in charge of hiring outside design agencies so I was exposed to a lot of different proposals from the client’s perspective. It was a great learning experience since I was able to see how companies decide to hire a design company and what sort of proposals were the most effective.
3. Did you plan to turn Bidsketch into a successful business from the very beginning, or was it a side project turned into an unexpected success?
Bidsketch started as a side project so I didn’t expect that it would grown into something that I’d be doing full-time. In a year and a half it had grown to the point where I was able to quit my job. I had modest goals so this was a complete surprise to me but I’m very grateful for how things turned out.
4. How did you come up with an idea for a Bidsketch? Why did you think people will be interested in something like that?
I started thinking about building Bidsketch when a friend of mine came to me for advice about how to deal with proposal request from a client. I explained what I knew about it and tried to find him a template online and found a really old-school downloadable app that helped people create proposals. I tried it out and it was pretty bad and not something that would appeal to a designer (since it was meant for corporate sales teams).
After that I checked the Google Keyword Tool which tells you how many people are searching for a specific term and found that it was something designers needed.
I knew people would be interested in something that would cut down on the time to create really nice looking proposals because it was something that I had wanted when I was a freelancer. It was also something I had heard many people complain about in the past so when I also saw that people were searching for a solution I thought a product made perfect sense.
5. You had a good job in a place where you worked for nine years. Why did you decide to engage in entrepreneurial pursuits? Why build a business when you already have stable income from a decent job?
I had a job that gave me a paycheck but I was no longer doing what I enjoyed doing. Over the years I had been promoted to where I was a senior manager. I took the promotions because they meant more money which many people do. Unfortunately, more money meant more responsibility. I had no longer had freedom or flexibility which is really what’s most important to me (much more than money is).
6. You had to invest a lot of time, energy and money into Bidsketch long before you were able to see the returns. What made you feel confident that you will be able to pull this off? Did you have doubts and if so, how did you deal with them?
I had many doubts throughout the entire process. Even now that it’s a relatively successful product there can be days where I have doubts. I think most people that have a business feel like this from time to time but rarely talk about it.
I’ve found that talking to people that understand what it takes to build and run a business helps. Early on, I almost gave up on the idea because I was having trouble getting feedback from people on web design forums. Luckily I emailed a friend who gave me some great advice and convinced me that I should keep going.
7. You built a business while working in a proper day job. How on Earth did you find enough time and energy to do that? Do you have any advise for people who would like to build a side business while keeping their day job?
It wasn’t easy that’s for sure. I basically worked from 8pm to 12am most nights and worked every weekend for a few months. The problem was that I was trying to do too many things by myself; I was doing the design, programming, marketing, and blogging, which was exhausting.
Eventually I decided to get help and start over by outsourcing parts of the product. I didn’t have a lot of money so I couldn’t outsource everything, but the with that approach I was able to move much faster which was super motivating.
So my advice to people that are doing something on the side while working full time is to get some help. You don’t need a lot of money and you don’t need to be some expert in outsourcing. Anyone can visit a site like oDesk and post a project to get some help.
8. You managed to quit your job eventually when Bidsketch took off. How did you know when was the right time to do it? What would you advise people who are running side businesses in regards to quitting their day jobs?
I lowered my expenses as much as I could before I quit by doing things like selling my car and getting rid of several monthly expenses. I talked to my wife to make sure she was comfortable with the idea. And once I had enough to cover our living expenses I decided to quit the job. I felt comfortable doing so because every month I saw revenue growth.
I think that people often say they’d like to quit their job but often don’t do the things necessary to make that happen. First, you have to take action. Launch a product, it doesn’t have to be something big, just start making money on the side. Also, I think it’s important to think about ways to lower expenses and cut the major expenses (think about car payment instead of eliminating your daily latte).
9. As much as most people hate their jobs, they do provide a sense of financial security, since you know that the paycheck will come at a certain time of a month. Wasn’t it scary for you to say goodbye to this?
For me it wasn’t scary because I had was already earning money on the side and it kept increasing every month. So while there are no guarantees, earning money from a product where people are getting real value is much more secure than having a job in my opinion. With a job, you have one paycheck and many people in the company can decide you’re not needed for any number of reasons. If you think about it, it’s a pretty risky situation.
10. Was the transition from the world of traditional employment to the world of entrepreneurship difficult? What are the key differences in mindset of a successful employee and a successful entrepreneur? What habits should employees who want to become entrepreneurs drop and what habits should they adopt?
My transition was mostly easy since I was mentally ready for the change. Working on a product and earning money on the side before quitting the job let me get used to the differences slowly.
One of the key differences in mindset have to do with time management I think. When you work for someone you’ll get paid no matter what you’re doing. When you’re working for yourself, spending 2 hours fixing some HTML bug in IE is probably not the best use of your time. There are many tasks that need to get done but it’s important to think about which are the important ones that can only be done by you, and which ones are worth spending a few bucks to have someone else do them.
If money is tight you’ll have to do more things yourself, but that’s the perfect time to start eliminating tasks that truly aren’t necessary. Every productive minute counts and you want to focus on the things that move the business forward.
As far as habits go, I think one of the more important ones has to do with letting other people do the work. I know I’ve said it a couple of times already but it truly is important to stop trying to do everything yourself; there’s simply too much to do.
Other than that, I feel it’s important to make sure that your goal is to help your customers be awesome. For example, I focus on making my customers be awesome at growing their business. I do this by making it easy for them to create proposals that impress their clients and win projects for them. This is literally how I think about things. By taking care of your customers, you’re helping your own business in the process.
11. What are the key things that you would do differently if you would have to start all over again, with a day job and an idea for a business? What were the main lessons learned?
I think I would’ve started sooner. I took too much time to actually start doing something to move me forward and launch a product. It was something I thought about for a long time but never took action. It took me being very unsatisfied at work to push me towards action. Unfortunately, most people fall into this trap. It’s especially bad when people are comfortable at work because they’ll likely never take action.
I made a lot of mistakes in the process of building and launching a product but was still able to make it work. I learned that persistence is unbelievably important. We’re all going to make mistakes, we just need to keep moving forward.
12. Last, but not least, is there anything you would like to say to our readers who have day jobs or freelance careers, but who would like to explore entrepreneurship?
Start with something small and have modest goals. If you’re curious or have some doubts, try it out on a small-scale and see how it goes. Even if it doesn’t work out you’ll learn a ton in the process. More importantly, once you start making money on the side you’ll see how your mindset changes.