While startups receiving big sums of money from outside investors seem to constantly snag up all the news headlines, especially in software and tech, most startups are bootstrapped, or, put differently, funded only by the founders’ personal funds and revenue. Despite there not being a set path for a company’s success, so many great lessons can be learned from examining a successful bootstrapped company, especially one that has grown up right here in Kentucky. Fortunately, Matt Langan was willing to share tips for business strategy and emotional resolve he has learned while creating Stuccco, a home-design software company based in Louisville, Kentucky.
Stuccco is an established virtual staging and emerging home-design software company that offers services for realtors, homeowners, designers, and retailers. Stuccco’s team is changing the home-design game by making it easy, fun, and more affordable for anyone looking to visualize a home’s true potential. The main service provided is top-of-the-line virtual staging for realtors, and the service is so good that the photos in the home advertisements require disclosures that they are manufactured images to manage homebuyer expectations. They are developing services that will allow designers and homeowners to virtually test furniture from retailers in their space. Proving the company is moving in the right direction, Stuccco was awarded the Vogt Award in September 2020 and won the Render Capital Competition in October 2020.
Somewhat deceivingly, Matt Langan has only been working on Stuccco full time for about 18 months now despite starting the company six years ago. Like many emerging entrepreneurs, Matt did not have a large number of funds to get the company going nor was he able to go full-time off the bat. Maintaining income outside of Stuccco was crucial to Matt being able to avoid rushing decisions and “just throwing crap up against the wall out of desperation to generate revenue ... because [he] was able to pay [his] bills” through that outside income. Matt does not “think somebody should be all in until they’ve achieved product-market fit.”
Stuccco, like all companies, has evolved since it went live in 2016 to create product-market fit and to stay ahead of the competition. Matt points out the importance of seeking feedback from prospective users prior to launch to ensure that your product resonates with your target niche. Learning the hard way, Matt built and rolled out Stuccco prior to seeking user feedback only to be met by crickets. He stated that had he “done it over ... [he] would have spoken with a ton of prospective users and learned if it was going to cut through the noise ....” Prior to rolling out a product, he said an entrepreneur’s goal “is to be able to describe what you’re doing and to immediately get the resonance ... from your specific customer.”
Fortunately, Matt was able to capitalize on seeking feedback prior to launch because he created a plethora of open channels of communication between Stuccco and its users. From these channels of communication, Stuccco’s team is constantly able to make product enhancements and develop product roadmaps that consistently fit their market. Matt recognizes how crucial it is to develop a product that fills an existing market demand but has just enough innovation to stay ahead of the competition. As he put it, “Because as an entrepreneur, you could develop a product that is absolutely amazing, but the market's not ready for it. ... Well, that means you have to stay in business, you know, paying down your bills for 10 years until the market matures to meet you.”
Being able to successfully create a company that provides a product or service that meets the demands of the market is much easier said than done. Matt certainly was not trying to paint a picture that getting to where he is now has been easy; in fact, he noted that “entrepreneurship, especially a bootstrapped entrepreneur, it can be very lonely.” He spent plenty of time working alone with only his laptop not sure if what he was working on would even succeed. Through self-belief and through seeking customer feedback to understand you’re creating something of value to them, an entrepreneur can quell skepticism.
Having an emotional resolve to overcome skepticism and sort through customer feedback is crucial to becoming a successful entrepreneur. Matt noted the three common traits he believes most successful people have. First, entrepreneurs have enough ego to believe they are smart enough to create a product that others might not even know they need yet. Second, the ego is balanced with a humble sense that improvements not only can but need to, be made. Third, the self-discipline to focus on a specific task for extended periods of time. Through these three traits, an entrepreneur will be able to consistently innovate on the feedback they seek until they find the product-market fit necessary to reach their vision of success.
Through Matt’s dedication to Stuccco and creating a product that meets the needs of his customers, the company has found quite a bit of success, especially for a software company in Louisville, KY instead of Silicon Valley. Matt believes that utilizing the benefits of Louisville’s entrepreneur ecosystem played into his success. He said, “what I love about Louisville is that all the other entrepreneurs in the area seem to be rooting other entrepreneurs on.” On top of the city’s friendly atmosphere, the low cost of living fosters a great environment for testing ideas, developing tech, and starting conservations with customers to achieve product-market fit. He noted that although the city lacks access to venture capital like Silicon Valley or other larger entrepreneur ecosystems, funding can be achieved almost entirely through online video conferences. Remote work and the innovations from it are also expanding the talent pool a company has access to while hiring. But, in true entrepreneur form, he noted that there was always room for improvement.
To hear more from Stuccco’s Founder, Matt Langan, listen to the podcast here.