Episode 4, Brian Freeman & Self-Assessment
Updated: Jun 22, 2018
“You can get obsessed with your own idea, because you’re pitching it all day. You have to get dynamic about the way you’re looking at yourself and your business, and find where you’re truly driving traction.” Brian Freeman, Founder and CEO of Heartbeat, discusses the one of the most important self-assessment qualities a founder can have. Heartbeat is a platform with over 100,000 millennial women that provides these users the ability to promote brands they care about on social media while getting paid. A service that fits in very well with the age of social media marketing, Freeman tells us about how he got to where he is now even through some very unsexy twists and turns.
Heartbeat came from two failed attempts at different apps. First was a dating app similar to Bumble, but it wasn’t able to compete in the saturated online dating market. Even through his failed experience with that app, “Wildfire,” he learned an important marketing tool: getting young women excited about a product resulted in exponential growth on social media. He applied this principle to his next attempt, a dating-video app, and grew a huge following on Instagram with guerilla marketing tactics. But by the time he had amassed a network of 2500 ambassadors ready to promote his app, the money had run out. From the end of this rope came Heartbeat. Freeman saw what worked in his businesses, which was his following. So, leveraging this traction, he started contracting out to other businesses who wanted to “rent ambassadors.” Pretty great story, right?
Absolutely, but the brutal ups and downs of his journey led Freeman to telling us that he wishes he had done his research better before starting each company. “You need to do your homework. I didn’t know my partners or the economic landscape well. And learning on the job is okay, but you need to know your market and the opportunity, and truly understanding what you’re going after.” Once you figure that out, a lot more becomes clear about how to self-assess and grow your business in the right direction. “Get really good at one metric and everything else will fill in around you.”
The Unsexy Time(s)
“You are given a different type of stress management when things get tough, a type you only get from being at literally the end of your rope,” says Freeman, when discussing one of the most unsexy moments he experienced in his journey. While trying to secure an investor for his video-dating app, the world seemed to crash down around him. 90 degree weather in his house, one month of rent money left, overdrawn company accounts, and best of all, a burst sewage line in his living room. For Freeman, being “literally at the end of your rope” meant cleaning up sewage while persuading an investor on the phone to help his company. A horrifying experience, he still stands by his argument that this type of stress is where the best solutions can come from. Bootstrapping a company like this, figuring out where to pivot to become profitable, gets you into the mindset of looking at every single thing you spend with the goal of stretching each dollar as far as possible.
“If you’ve got this grit mentality, that’s something that’s actually pretty rare."
In the battle of creativity and traction vs. funding and freedom, Freeman believes that you will succeed even more if you push yourself to your limit. This is the limit that can only be reached when you don’t have much capital to start with and rely heavily on your user base. You learn what to do with very little, while others don’t know what problem to attack when their capital maxes out. If you’re going to look at solving problems creatively, that’s almost like your competitive advantage moat.” This strength is what finally allowed Heartbeat to exist. That, and Freeman’s ability to remove everything that wasn’t working and focus on his users, which he believes he would not have been able to do without being in dire straits.
… And What Came From It
When asked about the confidence or self-assurance Freeman might be feeling after going through so many emotional trials, his response was simple. “There is confidence there, but I’m not delusional.” His advice to founders who are facing similar challenges was also simple. “Put more work into something than you ever knew you could. Once you get on the other side of that, it teaches you you’re capable of doing something you couldn’t imagine having been able to do before.”