Everyday Empires: Verdi Kapuku's Appshine
Verdi Kapuku opens up about laying the groundwork for his new design agency, Appshine
Welcome back to Everyday Empires, your weekly interview series spotlighting everyday founders. Today, we're sharing the story of Verdi Kapuku and his venture, Appshine.
Drawing on hard-earned lessons from his previous startup, Verdi has propelled his design agency, Appshine, towards early success. Follow him @FrenchMajesty on X.
Editor’s Note: Everyday Empires is looking for more relatable founders to interview. If you know a founder (or are one) whose journey could inspire others to launch a venture, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or reply to this email!
Can you give us an elevator pitch for Appshine? What gap did you see in the market, and who are you solving it for?
Appshine is a UX/UI design agency that helps tech startups design and build apps that drive more sales and retention.
The gap I saw in the market was that so many people were launching design subscription agencies1 but many had poor positioning. They didn't clearly define what they did for their clients besides "I will do design for you in exchange for money."
Most founders I know don't deeply care about that. However, I figured if I could use my business acumen to use design as a function to drive tangible business growth rather than vague aesthetic points, I would be the clear choice in the eyes of the tech leaders.
What was the turning point for you in making the shift from software engineer to entrepreneur?
In truth, I am unemployable. I tend to get bored at a job after 6~8mo and I'm always more interested in doing my own thing. From the moment I discovered tech when I was 12 I knew I'd one day want to start my own company in this industry. I guess I've stayed true to that dream/vision.
How’d you find and book your initial clients? Where has growth come from since?
The first few came from Product Hunt, then the majority of our revenue has come from cold outreach with a decent chunk coming from referrals (last quarter it was 24% of our revenue).
Do you have any advice for someone getting started with cold outreach?
Adjust your expectations and then just do the work.
Expectations: You only have 2 resources to ever spend to grow your business. Time and money, right? If you're getting started and have no money to buy awareness and leads, then you will need to spend time. That's inevitable. So expect to spend a lot of time and get very little results in the beginning. Some months that meant 2-3hrs/day, 5 days/week to get 0 new customers at the end of the month for me.
Do the work: Just send a lot of outreaches. As much as you can tbh. If you have an automated email system, a benchmark to see sales come from it is minimum 400/week. If it's LinkedIn, max out the limits on your plan. I think it's 40/week I'm not exactly sure. If you are as targeted as we are and you're focused on hot leads, you can get away doing 50/week. That's what I started off doing and then reduced it 20-30/week because we have customers we now serve and need to focus on.
How do you define success for Appshine, and how does that align with your vision of creating valuable real-world applications?
I define it as helping more customers ship more products that grow their revenue and creating jobs to upskill workers in 3rd world countries.
Creating jobs to upskill workers in 3rd world countries? Can you share more about that? Why is that important to you and do you have a vision for how that will manifest?
I realize that Africa is a massive untapped well of potential. Those countries lack infrastructure but have huge amounts of human capital (1.2B people). Plus, low living costs make it a perfect target for cheap labor.
Here’s the opportunity: the desire to outsource and save on costs created lots of jobs and prosperity for China's manufacturing and India's IT market in the 70s and 80s.
However, today the cost of building in China is rising and India has had a difficult time maintaining a consistent quality standard, making it an unreliable partner. Thus, smart businesses are looking elsewhere for that cheap labor.
You see where I’m going with this, right? This is my master plan for changing the world:
Hire some of the brightest minds in tech from the USA at a premium
Hire a team of very cheap but smart young Africans and train them for 6 months
Then get that team to work under the tight directive of this USA tech worker
This will essentially allow us to have team units that have 1 brain and 10 hands
Allowing us to deliver 80% of the quality of the work but at 20% of the cost for businesses
If we can deliver on this core model, everybody wins and it could easily give birth to a $50B industry. :-)
Now, I’m not trying to do this next year. This is a life legacy thing.
I will probably die before I see the full picture come together but if I can help break open a new labor pool, I will have changed human history forever and 100s of millions of lives will be positively affected by the ripple effects of this change.
Editor’s Note: What an amazing vision. I’ve heard from other entrepreneurs that an ambitious goal that you’re energized to work toward day in and out can be the difference between success and failure. It gives them an edge in attracting talent & capital, and helps propel them through the hard phases when they otherwise might give up.
As someone who enjoys the challenge of complex engineering problems, how do you balance the technical aspects with the entrepreneurial side of running Appshine?
I intentionally stay away from engineering contracts for Appshine because they are too time consuming. However, I haven’t given up on SaaS. I’m currently in the process of entertaining and validating a couple of moves.
Can you share a glimpse of your day-to-day life as the founder of Appshine? What does a typical day look like for you?
Wake up at 5am.
By 5:10 I'm out the door. I go for a walk and think, medidate, and thank God I'm alive for another day!
By 5:40am I'm at my desk where I do some planning for my day, planning what the team is gonna be working on, catching up on missed emails and messages, etc...From about 6:00am 9:30am I do the deep work that will require the most focus out of me. This varies day by day but it will either be designing for a customer, writing content, writing email sequences, planning & strategy.
Then the rest of the day is really a freestyle. It will be a mix of calls with my team, calls with customers, networking in person. Doing actual work.
Until ~5:30pm when I wrap up the work day.
There are some interruptions during the day. I take a 1h lunch break mid-day. I will typically take 3 10-15 min breaks to get up stretch, scroll TikTok or play Polytopia. I will also take about two 30 min breaks in the day to help out my stay-at-home wife with the baby. All in all, I spend about 10 hrs a day working.
Could you share some insights into the financial health or customer metrics that highlight Appshine’s current performance?
Overall, since we launched we have been growing about 60% MoM and if we can sustain this momentum we will cross the almighty $10K/month mark early into next year (Q1 2024).
From your experience with your last startup, Mora AI, did you learn any key lessons that you're applying to make Appshine a success?
Yes. As a first time founder I was way too focused on the product and not enough on distribution. It killed us and it was a very painful experience for me. Especially when a product we tried to launch failed, and then 8 months later we saw a company in space doing something VERY similar to get all the traction and awards. From then, I realized that I need to over-index on customer acquisition early on and improve the product over time. But most first-timers just don't get that... Unless you're a very lucky part of the 1% who just inherently understand that, most typically have to experience a very painful failure to shift that mindset and get it right. Especially if you come from an engineering/product background.
For our readers who are budding entrepreneurs, what advice would you share about moving from idea to execution?
You should be hyper-focused on customer acquisition. Your product or service can and should be halfway-crappy. It can't be totally bad because those first few customers won't give you good reviews but it should be scrappy. If you can figure out how to consistently get your thing in front of 5-10 customers a week, you'll learn quickly what's working and what's not. As you fix those things, you will start closing more of those people you're reaching. At first, you'll close 2 customers/week, then 4/week, then 8/week, etc... and you'll start getting traction.
Chase revenue first, product improvement second.
Before we wrap, is there anything about your journey we haven’t covered that you’d like my audience to know?
You shouldn't look for mentors, look for peers. By this I mean other people who are also trying to figure out this entrepreneurship thing with you and can hold each other accountable. You'll grow much faster if you're part of a cohort of other ambitious hard-workers. I know it can be tough if you don't live in a city with a thriving ecosystem but this can (and will) make all the difference.
There's a reason why the best founders have a strong network. And it's typically not because they are successful since the network is built on the way up. Rather, it's because they seek to surround themselves with other smart and ambitious people and that drives them.
That’s a wrap
A massive shoutout to Verdi for sharing a glimpse into his journey! Before you leave, be sure to check out Verdi’s venture and follow him:
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Until next week,
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A design subscription agency is one in which designers prioritize recurring revenue and ease of onboarding. For example, they’ll charge a monthly rate (i.e. $2,500/mo) for their ongoing services, offer tier-based pricing, and enable potential clients to hire them by clicking a “buy” button. I’ve also seen it referred to as a “productized service,” hinting at its similarity to a SaaS product.