22-Year-Old Immigrant Made $700K in 3 Months with AI

Alec was a 22-year-old immigrant who launched his very first online business that did $700,000 in just 3 months the wildest part is he started the company back in college with a co-founder in zero money we launched it in March and by the end of March we have almost nearly half of our school signed up to use our product and so that was our first kind of like wo that point we're like holy crap I tracked down Alec in one of the coolest offices to dive into his entrepreneurial story and learn about the mini bumps he had along the way every time I wake up like my neck sore so much I end up just like putting these two bean bags together and just going to lie down and sleep for example in school he couldn't even land a job despite interviewing with hundreds of different companies and asked International students we Face immigration visas and legal issues how many did you apply to you think apply to over 500 So to avoid getting kicked out of the US he decided to start his own business with a college friend they spotted a gap and built a quick solution which landed them as a top four product on product hunt and with interest from a venture capital firm in this video Alec breaks down exactly how they went from0 to $700,000 in just 3 months all the specific tools resources and websites they used and recommend for other startups in Scrappy ways to use a tiny marketing budget but still blow up and get tons of customers we close and we scream yeah like we we made it okay we're downtown Town we're about to see one of the coolest offices in all of downtown Austin We're going to meet Alec and tell us more about how he started it Mitchell there he is how you doing what's up boss good to see you dude thanks for making the time dude this is cool I like to this welcome and let's explore the office yeah I'm Alec I'm the co-founder of aori I turned 23 this year I started the company a year ago when I was 22 and what problem does your company solve a 4i is a research workflow platform that helps researchers manage all of their citations references research papers and conduct very easily literature reviews using AI is this academic research is this business research like what type of research at the core group of customers we want to serve is Academia researcher PhD candidates students Masters or even professors and postdoctorates you were a top product on product hunt a top product on appsumo and now you just got Venture Capital backing how did this all start I say start as a student project I was still in school last year I just graduated but it started out as a student project for a pitch competition me and my co-founder that we started to attend in January January 2023 and the grand prize was $10,000 and that pitch was in April so I had 4 months to come up with the product bring that to fruin to prove that to get get traction uh pitch it and win that that was the road map so the idea started when um I I think at that point open and I gpt3 became a very big thing um around like January of last year so we're going to just set down for two months just okay let's just learn the technology let's create multiple um different variations of product in different aspects so the first shape of the product it was actually called code assist AI I want to leverage um AI technology in this case open AI to help students have a easier way to to write code to help them with their economics and data science projects and then moving forward okay we let's expand this further uh what else can we do and so the one of the biggest problem that we stumbled across was students and researchers spent a lot of time having to read through the research materials read through the essays the research papers for professional of serious researchers that's the terminology is called doing literature reviews we finished that mvp the minimum product in the end of February so we spent a month me and my co-founder just kind of Co through away and by a month later by the end of March we have almost nearly half of our school signed up to use our product and so that was our first kind of like wo we we didn't expect that at all we set a goal okay like we want 100 users to sign up and use it at the end of the month um we have like over 500 um and that was like around half our school cuz we have a very small school keep that in mind and so at that point we're like holy crap what was it supposed to be like I don't know this was this should have been just student project it triggered something in you that kind of like you're bringing real value to users students and researchers in that moment in time I was like wow okay let's keep going let's give the momentum up when did you first come to the US and get the idea that you wanted to do a startup I first arrived in the US in 2019 to come study in the US at Lawrence University it's a very small liberal arts college um based in Appleton Wisconsin and and as International students we fac immigration visas and legal issues like to be able to maintain to continue staying in the US had to get a sponsor or like an employer I continue applying to jobs I couldn't I couldn't even land on interview how many did you apply to you think I applied to over 500 um I think a lot more um probably in the thousands I lost count the way I did it was just I work multiple jobs um probably like three four jobs all at the same time and I also did some summer internship one of the biggest job I take pride in is a student tutor and so we won our University's competition what happens at the pitch competition and then what at that point I was actually very ambitious I had two startup ideas we somehow made it through and we got I got both ideas to the pitch competition and so the pitch happened um we lost both ideas no like four months of heart work were both ideas lost out the window devastating sure um so I couldn't get a job to be able to continue to be in the US and I lost the Student Competition um the student pitch competition that would give me like a little bit more money to kind of live um cover my expenses y I was like this [ __ ] sucks man so I came to the conclusion there's an option one go back to Vietnam second is incorporate this idea this company or incorporate a fori this current product into a company so we have these two options which one so we're kind of like you know what we came this far we spent 4 months of blood and sweat but 4 months think of like no sleep just grind and how long how much money did you put into it um how long did you how long did it take to come up with the idea when we decided that we want to build this company full time we kind of chip in what we had and we had around 10,000 less than $10,000 to kind of sustain ourselves and finance the company um once we graduated in graduation up until July we wanted to launch on produ Hunt because I think that's a very popular way to get in immediate traction and to validate the product further reiterate we didn't sleep for 48 hours we literally just our full energy was in produ onun launch reply to every single comment to reply to every single feedback record all of those feedback back to re iterate to watch the servers or whether it crashes if it crashes what are the bucks bucks that we need to fix all of that within the span of 40 hour 48 hours I crashed afterwards by the way um but that intention that energy and that Focus ultimately got us um ranked fourth product of the Day little no marketing dollars little no like bigger backings uh getting that fourth part was like it was worth it like wow um we did it with sheer will and just like hard work that's when a VC SP ATX um they're early stage one based in Austin Texas here we are now um they took notice they messag us and this landed in my junk box a junk email by the way as as a customer asking like hey this product is really cool how did you guys build it we replied further and that engagement further and further on and at some point they says hey I'm a associate at this VC um I have a little more questions on how you guys build this product like um can you like answer here are the questions do you guys mind like answering it I repli back hey um I'm happy to nerd out on our journey on how we built this product with you um but let's just do it over a call um rather than like us like going back and forth on email I think that'll be a better use of both of our time let's just hop on a quick call but then 2 days later I got this call on my phone um from this unknown number message a text message right afterwards and it says Hey Alec this is Sputnik we want to tell you guys that you guys are in please call us back when it's convenient nice I was stucked right and I showed it to my co-founder and we were like what the heck yeah and we we just called the number back and it was the managing partner of sping ATX um he just gave us like a quick uh congratulations and a rundown hey you guys are in um we love to um accept you guys into our accelerat program and write us uh our very first investment uh of $100,000 and we're like keeping our go like oh like this is great news um thank you so much um we look forward to um starting the program and be in coming back to you guys' office and work with you guys to grow the company like thank you for giving us the opportunity we closed and we screamed [ __ ] yeah like that was like we made it moment yeah but at the same time like now it's not a m moment because getting that funding is the Turning Point okay we we're getting serious like honestly we were laughed at we were made fun of people doubted it they U kind of gave us an office to work work out of so MIT um this is our kitchen we're going to we have bunch of snacks over there all as a perk and we have bunch of ramen oh nice they give you the me funding but they keep you on a Ramen diet I know we have like if we like continue down we have a bunch of meeting rooms where we kind of like have if we're on an investor call or just meeting clients and this is where our office is a big bookshelf where we're going to store all of our books that we read as Founders a lot of teachings and how to build companies and all that can you pick your three favorite books or the three books that have impacted you the most the first one is the mom test honestly it taught me how to properly interview all of our users and it taught me like the number one rule actually is to never talk about your product and actually just start with tell me about your day-to-day in your work and what do you do and then from there you can kind of pinpoint into the problems and guide them into the areas that you want to talk about right make it about the user and their in their day not about you and your product never pitch never pitch your product Mom test I think the next one's going to be digital for marketing it gave me like a very comprehensive list and instructions and explanation on all different types of marketing tactics and actually gave me the helped me choose the first five marketing strategies that I put my first $5,000 in yeah last one I think I'm just going to go with get backed get backed okay what' you learn here get backed what gave me the exact recipe how to build a pitch deck that helped me raise over half a million dollars in Venture Capital funding M yep so got to read this to build a really awesome deck that attracts VC's attention Sho do fil Knight um got to read it this guy went through so much struggle I haven't been through as much compared to this guy I can still keep going right so this is where I work over there and that's where I sit I work uh as I don't know 100 hours a week as much as I can um and then here is where we do our daily um no weekly meet up uh with between us and our investors um yeah so the view as always fantastic we can see the river right down there you guys are right there and then there other startups in the same program that uh are here as well or you guys are just the only ones in here um and so right now it's just us but sometimes like we have other profill companies do drop by they work here U but since it's a Friday night Friday evening um everybody's going to it's just it's just him and his Bounder over there grinding out here we love to see it that's what you got to do yeah yeah yeah uh okay cool can we maybe see the um where you where you take your naps sure sure sure let's go so it's actually right back over there right so let's go ahead yep so uh this is the room look at this um yeah all right so act as if like it's a long day you're just going to go grab a a a quick nap which one do you do you go on the floor where do you go oh okay so at first I usually use the hammock yeah but every time I wake up like my neck sore so much yeah I ended up just like putting these two bean bags together and just going to lie down and sleep okay sweet I think we have what we need do you want to give your co-founder a shout out have y so uh that's my co-founder right there he's just working uh working coding away as usual nice I think he's wired in as M Mark Zu said it when you're first hearing about abso and this deal with that Alex is calling you telling you about what are you thinking and like what's going through your head at at some point we reach a plateau like I I do run out of leads or potential customers that is willing to spend 5 minutes of their time to talk with us and so appsumo came out a very good timing of us like running out of people to talk to is appsumo and the users from appsumo called Sumo links right is that how you guys call it um Sumo links are notoriously known for being very active and engaging to the products that they they like and so we were like that's what we wanted and we chatted with ANL Alex from appsumo um about how we can do a partnership together like hey can we partner like we have this product and I think we came to a conclusion we can we came to a we finalize a partnership that to launch an app Sumo put us in front of all these users and that's how we started the feedback loop and so let's say when a user by a product um after like a week a month and six months like the one month Mark six month Mark we would send out like an an email um to ask them for feedback um to ask them about hey how's the products been uh working for you like is there any way that we can improve it um and we asked the right questions to get that feedback so there's a lot of mechanisms in place that make it very easy for a user to give us feedback and I don't find that many companies that does that so I think like that's one of our advantage to be able to continue that reiter cycle it blew up more success successful than we ever thought and dreamed of um and yeah so the revenue side like top 10 hottest selling products $700,000 in Revenue that was a subsidiary goal but I think like that kind of like I think there's another lesson right there like when you don't focus on revenue and focus on building the best product customers the revenue actually comes to you yeah and yeah I didn't realize at that point how do you think about the importance of getting customers and then incorporating their feedback into the product well I think at the end of the day right any company that offers anything whether that's a product or a service has to bring value and as a startup that's the mission we need to find an idea that brings enough value or create enough value and solve a real problem for them to pay us and so for us as a young startup starting out we are in the process of exploration to build a solution that's worth offering to all of our customers

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