Founder: Aaron Frazin
Company Description: Application that researches the people you are scheduled to meet with and sends you insight briefings before your meeting
Company Site: https://charlieapp.com; Facebook; Twitter
Date of Interview: January 2015
Aaron Frazin is the co-founder and CEO of Charlie App, an online application that compiles research and sends you a summary of what you need to nail your next meeting. He dropped out of his senior year of college to accept an invitation to the Kauffman Foundation in pursuit of Charlie App and has not looked back. He aims to become a ‘cool grandpa’ one day who has 1) Changed and innovated something(s) in the world. 2) Lived a life with stories worth repeating. 3) Spread happiness.
On being a natural entrepreneur:
Aaron says he didn’t always identify with the terms “founder” or “entrepreneur” necessarily, but he just acted like one from a young age.
“I just always was. When I was 11 I started animating. I asked my parents for some animation and flash software. Don’t know why.” He began finding clients online shortly afterwards. “When I was 13, I told everyone that I was 18 and I would never meet anyone in person and would only meet them over AOL Messenger. Every year I told people I was 18 and no one ever figured it out.”
On the idea and getting started:
It was the same type of hustle he had as a kid that got Charlie off the ground when he was in college. He came up with the idea after spending a lot of time interviewing companies and recruiters for a job fair. To see if it was an idea worth pursuing, he and his friends offered 3 free briefings from the product (that they had not built) to 30 different executives and sales professionals. For a few weeks, Aaron and his friends stayed up late manually researching and compiling summaries.
“At the time I thought it was so dumb. I’m supposed to create a company and I’m just doing research every day on other peoples’ meetings! Looking back on it, it was one of the most important things we ever did. We were able to get people to say they wanted to pay for it – we learned what people are willing to pay for, what they won’t pay for, and why.”
They used the research and information to prioritize and focus on where to start building first.
On using what you have going for you:
“Some people might be rich so they can fund their startup – so use that. Some people might already have a ton of connections – so use that. Some people can animate – so use that. Some people are amazing at sales – so use that. For me, one of the things I have going for me is that I’m young. So I’m going to use it.”
“Everyone wants to help the 20-something year old entrepreneur who is just trying to figure things out. I actually e-mailed people who had been CEOs of much bigger companies, and in the subject line said ‘Advice for a young entrepreneur’. People wanted to respond because they felt like they’d been in my shoes before. That’s how I was able to meet a ton of people.” (Aaron writes about asking for help in Huffington Post.)
“There isn’t one recipe for success. Everything everyone tells you and everything you read is just a data point. Use what works for you. So many companies have been created in so many different ways. Determine what you think is best for you and go for it.”
“We thought – ‘We are amazing!’ But, one of our advisers told us that it didn’t matter and press doesn’t matter. ‘Your users matter and your key metrics matter and those are the only things that matter. Take a minute and enjoy that, but remember the things that matter.’”
“Anytime something like that happens we celebrate for a minute, but we know what the important things that matter are, and that we have to focus on those. Image is not success. It’s about how well you’re solving the problem of your users.”
On building a team:
At the time of the interview, there were 9 people on the Charlie App team. They recently started the interview process to add a new engineer to the team. They started with about 100 candidates, and continued interviewing for 8 months before finally making a hire they felt was right.
“Don’t settle. You cannot. When your startup is this early, every single person is a leader and will be the leadership team for years to come. It has to be someone we love to be around, someone who is super smart- smarter than us. It’s very important to us to keep our team like a family because we have a chance to make it right and build a foundation.”
To date, Charlie App has raised $1.75M.
“Funding follows success, success does not follow funding. Remember what’s important and when you’re achieving that, then investors will come to you. In movies it’s all about the pitch and persuasion. But investors are smart and they’re going to get down to what the most important things are to your business. And if those things are truly going well, then you’ll see funding.”
“It’s all hustle in the beginning. After that the only thing I found to be true is momentum. As you have more and more momentum things get easier. Nothing you read will help you except hustle and finding out what resonates with the people you’re targeting. You’re going to fail 1000 times, but eventually you’ll get your first employee, and raise your first round.”
“It’s not about taking short cuts – it’s just going to be hard. But you can power through it, even if most people won’t. If you decide to keep powering through it, then know that it’s hard and know that it gets easier and easier with momentum. Your goal is to solve the problem and keep creating momentum.”
You can find the Charlie App team going to concerts together and throwing dinner parties to foster collaboration in the startup community. They continue to focus on their customer needs and key metrics while hustling to keep the momentum going. “I sleep thinking about it, I wake up thinking about it. I just want to solve the problems.”