Table of Contents
- Tell us about your product and what inspired you to start it?
- How long did it take you to acquire your first 50 customers, and what was your growth strategy?
- Which technology stack are you using and what challenges and limitations does it pose?
- What are some of the most essential tools that you use for your business?
- What have been some of the biggest insights you've gained since starting your entrepreneurial journey?
- Your recommended books/podcasts/newsletters etc.:
Aprilynne Alter is the founder of Tenderfoot - matches smart people with world-changing opportunities
Tell us about your product and what inspired you to start it?
At its core, Tenderfoot matches smart people with world-changing career opportunities – irrespective of traditional factors such as GPA, degree, university, nationality, age, and physical location.
Instead, we capture and measure culture, values, interests, and skills. We encourage both talent (candidates) and startups (employers) to choose what matters to them, and we use extraordinary data to make high-quality matches.
Our focus on positions at startups comes from an observation that most traditional jobs don’t create new value for the world.
The concept of value creation is very near and dear to my heart. When I was in college, I was pressured into a traditional career path (Wall Street banking.) If not for one internship, an internship at a startup, I would have continued down a road I *knew* was not for me.
For that internship was no regular summer job - it was a catalyst to realizing what value creation truly meant, and just how much a small team of driven individuals could accomplish.
I looked around me, and I saw class after class of bright, talented students funneled into jobs that don’t create new value. Devoid of outside perspective, “traditional” jobs seem like the only option.
And even if people do recognize what they want and go after it, they’re often held back by not ticking the “right” boxes – GPA, degree, physical location, age – antiquated metrics that have poor association with workplace performance that are for some reason still used.
My co-founder and I both fully believe that if everyone was able to work on something they were passionate about, the world would be a dramatically different place. We’d be on Mars by now. And through Tenderfoot, with every match we make, we get closer to achieving this reality.
How long did it take you to acquire your first 50 customers, and what was your growth strategy?
After we first released our waitlist, it took around 1 month to get 50 signups. Be careful to not take this 1 month in a vacuum, though – it came after building my Twitter audience to over 2,000 followers (this took me around 2 months.)
In the early stages, Twitter was absolutely critical to Tenderfoot’s growth. All of our initial marketing was done through tweeting and “building in public” – updates about buying a domain name, thinking through database challenges, debating what tools to use, releases, etc.
The waitlist was for an earlier version of our product – matching students with internships at startups. After collecting nearly 200 signups of both students and startups, my co-founder and I decided to shift gears. Instead of focusing on internships, we’d focus on fulltime jobs – this would allow us to collect more revenue earlier on, as we’d be able to take a cut of the first-year base salary. And instead of being available to positions of all kinds, we’d focus on junior software developers – this would allow us to build a strong foundation from which to expand on later.
Marketplaces are tricky. You have your typical “chicken and egg” dilemma – you need to establish one side of the marketplace in order to attract the other side.
For our current product, we started with building out a solid pool of high-quality junior devs. After an announcement thread on Twitter and a couple emails sent to Tenderfoot’s old waitlist and to my alma mater’s entrepreneurship program, we have 10 verified, vetted junior devs.
Our next step is to continue building our developer talent pool with a combination of Google Ads, SEO (blog posts), podcast appearances, giveaways, and social media posts on Twitter, LinkedIn, Reddit, Indie Hackers, Blind, and HackerNews.
After we have at least 20 verified devs, we’ll start marketing to startups as well.
Which technology stack are you using and what challenges and limitations does it pose?
We originally considered building out a full web app, but the frontend would have taken a very long time.
Instead, we were able to build out a basic MVP using no-code tools in just 2 weeks:-
Landing page: umso.com
- Onboarding flows: tally.so
- Scheduling: calendly.com
- Matching formula: google.com/sheets
- Design: figma.com
As a bit of context, I’m non-technical, but my co-founder is the best developer I know. Regardless of his technical skills, though, using no-code tools to get our MVP off the ground as quickly as possible has been incredibly rewarding. We’re already receiving valuable feedback on our flows and processes, and we’re able to make huge changes with just a few clicks.
Of course, a full no-code stack does have its downsides. There are some aspects of our product we haven’t been able to build in no-code, including full dashboards for our devs and startups. At this early stage, though, our speed of iteration is more valuable than our features.
What are some of the most essential tools that you use for your business?
Discord, Umso, Tally, Calendly, Notion, Figma, GMail, Google Drive
What have been some of the biggest insights you've gained since starting your entrepreneurial journey?
Tenderfoot is not my first startup.
A few months before starting Tenderfoot, I spent all of my waking hours working on an idea in the senior care space. I did the research. I conducted user interviews. I launched an MVP. I was going through all of the motions, and actually feeling pretty good about it, until I was hit with a very special question:
“What makes you uniquely qualified to solve this problem? What is your unique insight?”
I had my reason for building in the senior care space – my grandmother had suffered immensely when she was moved into a facility – but in thinking through my answer to this question, I realized something.
There’s a difference between identifying that a problem exists and having unique insight into that problem.
When I reflected honestly, I realized that I didn’t have anything particularly special to add. I was smart. I could do good work. But I wasn’t a doctor or a nurse. I hadn’t been a caretaker for my grandmother. Beyond some rudimentary research and phone calls, I hadn’t spent significant time with seniors.
I realized that I truly *wasn’t* the best person to be solving that problem. And it hurt like hell to admit, but it was the push I needed to start thinking more critically about my own unique skills, experiences, and insights.
It was that line of thinking that led to me to Tenderfoot – having both worked at a startup and hired for a startup, and witnessed firsthand what stark differences existed between traditional recruitment and startup recruitment.
I can with full confidence now say that I believe my co-founder and I are the two best people in the world to be solving this problem. And it’s that kind of confidence, that kind of passion and belief, that allows us to keep pushing even when things get tough.
Your recommended books/podcasts/newsletters etc.:
Favorite Business Books: Storyworthy (Matthew Dicks), The 4-Hour Workweek (Tim Ferriss), How to Win Friends and Influence People (Dale Carnegie)
Favorite Fantasy Books: The Mistborn Trilogy (Brandon Sanderson), The Stormlight Archive (also Brandon Sanderson), The Moontide Quartet (David Hair)
Favorite Podcasts: Indie Hackers Podcast, How I Built This
Favorite Newsletters: The Curiosity Chronicle