Grade school textbooks often show only a handful of lucrative careers — the usual suspects like lawyer, doctor, or celebrity/athlete. Or so Jake Hare thought.
Hare’s childhood wasn’t easy — he grew up in California in a working class family that was, for a time during his teen years, living out of a car with no real home. He joined the army to pay for his law school degree, eventually making his way to Nashville. There, a mentor stirred him in a different way by exposing him to the world of technology.
“I wasn’t going to be a doctor, I wasn’t big enough to be an athlete, so that’s why I wanted to go to law school. I started finding out that there’s a lot of other careers that you can do that are just as successful,” says Hare.
With experience in cybersecurity from the army, Hare found a high-paying job in IT. His tech career took him, his wife, developer Belinda Hare, and their kids to Charleston in 2014. But while their jobs paid the bills steadily, Hare had an entrepreneurial bug as well.
A year later, after seeing how difficult it is for developers to communicate with clients and vice versa, the husband-wife duo launched their startup consultancy Launchpeer.
“The customers don’t know how to speak developer talk, so they might say something that they want but don’t really understand what they’re asking for,” says Hare. “If you’re a non-technical founder, it’s very difficult to know what you’re looking for. You can waste a lot of money or equity trying to figure out whether this person is a good developer. That’s where the initial idea for Launchpeer was born.”
The road to success wasn’t easy for Hare and the team. During their initial two years, assumptions about customer acquisition and their target audience proved incorrect and difficult to overcome. They almost threw in the towel.
But what do you when you’re original concept isn’t working? You throw it out the window, Hare says.
“We said we’re gonna get back to the core of what we wanted to do, and if the business fails, it fails,” says Hare. “While we were looking for jobs, we pivoted the entire business including the branding. “
To simplify their messaging and lower the barrier to entry, Launchpeer displayed pricing on their website along with the specific products and services they offered (creative agency and startup accelerator offerings).
Before the pivot, the consultancy had expanded to enterprises as a last resort to grow its revenue. They re-focused specifically on those early stage startups that need help solidifying an idea, with product development, and/or their marketing strategy.
“When you’re an early startup and you’re trying to figure things out, the last thing you wanna do is document your numbers,” says Hare. “The only thing you’re trying to do is scratch and claw your way through the next sale and so you don’t want to look at the numbers. What you should do is get your numbers first — as small as they are, doesn’t matter. Set up the framework to know what your numbers are going to be and then build on top of that.”
A self-taught marketer, Hare did just that. Following the pivot in messaging and business model, Hare started tracking the origin of his leads — from phone calls to Twitter and Facebook ads. He directed marketing efforts to the channels that were providing the most leads.
Nearly four years later, Hare and his team have built on their lessons and failures to help other startups grow and scale. In the last year, the agency has gone from three to 25 employees with incredible month-over-month growth.
He says part of the risk that paid off was hiring quickly.
“In reality, what would have happened if I hired five people and I did it too fast? Worst case scenario, I was back where I was three months before. I was already at that point,” says Hare. “For some founders, when they’re early on and they’re considering taking a risk, they think worst case scenario is the entire business fails. Worst case scenario you have to let go of your team and you’re back to were you were when you started. That’s it.”
The growth came quickly, so they followed customer feedback and expanded.
“We turned a corner so quickly and capitalized on it,” says Hare. “We were able to do that, but also maintain the culture that we had when we started — a startup culture that’s friendly to employees. It’s a very flat structure; we have really good talent that continues to want to work.”
With offerings still explicitly stated on their site — options for roadmap, prototype, build, iterate, launch, and grow — Launchpeer is helping startups and non-technical founders go farther with their ideas. Now, the Charleston-based agency provides their startup services to companies around the country and the world, with clients in California, Canada, Australia, and the UK.
“The reason we’re able to get such consistent work from people outside of Charleston is that our messaging lends itself to founders no matter where they are,” says Hare.
The issue Hare says he most often sees with companies in the Southeast? Funding.
“A lot of these startups that we work with have a very hard time raising serious venture capital funding,” says Hare. “There are a lot of angel investment groups in the Southeast, and while that’s great, it doesn’t make a dent in somebody actually trying to grow a really big legitimate business.”
“If you go back and look at the biggest startups we’ve seen in Silicon Valley, or even the country, for the most part they got big from raising a big Series A round. And those Series A rounds don’t often happen in the Southeast — not to the typical extent that they should.”