Challenge Accepted: Don’t Settle for a Job or Startup That Fails to Bring You the Happiness (or Revenue) You Need  

By the time Tom Hunt founded Fame, he’d pursued and pulled out of three corporate jobs and two startup ventures. He refused to settle for a venture that didn’t make him happy. When revenue dropped or scaling seemed improbable, Tom reflected on his mistakes and vowed never to repeat them. Instead, he applied what he’d learned to his next startup. 

In 2020, that perseverance led Tom to build Fame, a company that makes podcasts for growing B2B businesses. Fame now helps over 50 businesses win more clients and makes over $100,000 in monthly recurring revenue (MRR). But it’s been a tough journey.  

Tom credits his success to never giving up when times were hard. When he had an idea, he executed it, and if it failed, he’d try again. Never settling for second best or recalibrating his life goals, Tom persisted when others might’ve given up, which now has him making over a million dollars a year. 

Discover how Tom built a thriving B2B podcasting service despite a few career swerves and startup failures. 

Building a Business to Replace a Salary 

Coming from a family of scientists, Tom decided to study chemistry at Imperial College London. But post-graduation, he veered away from STEM to project management. Ernst & Young hired Tom as an analyst in 2011, and in 2013, he left for a consulting job at Accenture. 

Neither role felt quite right to Tom. The corporate world was no better fit for him than the science one, so he decided to pursue a different interest of his: the internet. 

“I couldn’t code, but I liked the internet, so I decided to try selling stuff online,” Tom says. “At the start of 2014, I challenged myself to replace my salary with a business.” 

Tom spent the next year playing around with Google AdWords, keyword research, and other marketing-related projects. But none of them felt viable. So he returned to the expertise he’d built at E&Y and Accenture helping them outsource projects. 

In 2015, Tom built Virtual Valley, a platform connecting virtual assistants (VAs) with CEOs around the world. Tom would email employers and suggest VAs, and in return, take a portion of their salary if they hired them. Once Tom secured five or six clients, he’d finally achieved his goal of replacing his salary with the income from a business.

But it didn’t take long for the founder to realize that his current business model wouldn’t scale. 

Scaling a Business With Few Growth Opportunities

Cold emailing employers on behalf of VAs was time-consuming and limited how fast the business grew. Plus, with Tom taking half of the profits, it implied that these VAs were only half as good. Tom decided to switch to a marketplace model, where employers could hire VAs without him acting on their behalf. With this model, he no longer had to individually manage the VAs but could focus on customer outreach. 

A team of developers from Egypt spent six months building the technology to support this new marketplace. During that time, Tom focused on recruiting high-quality VAs to list their services on the site. 

He also studied inbound and outbound marketing tactics to reach more companies looking to hire – one of which was starting a podcast. While this didn’t become Fame, it did show Tom a side of marketing and customer relations that he was pretty good at.

“I loved it. It was a daily show running Monday through Friday with five to ten-minute episodes,” Tom says. “I liked the process of it because it made me learn faster. I also enjoyed the feedback I got from listeners.” 

Tom reports that the podcast performed well, and shortly after launch, Virtual Valley regularly earned £5,000 (around $4,225) a month in gross market value. For 18 months, the founder spent his waking hours scaling the business. But by the summer of 2017, Tom was burnt out. 

“In hindsight, I probably should have kept on going with that business,” Tom says. “But I decided it was too hard. So I sold it for $20,000.” 

“I worked really hard for three years, but then I burnt out and I gave up on the things that could have been quite good.”

Looking back, Tom wishes he’d been more patient and made that decision with a clearer head. He encourages other founders to expect a long wait time for results as well. 

“I thought I could work harder and become a multimillionaire in three years,” Tom says. “So I worked hard for three years, but then I burnt out and gave up on the things that could have been quite good.

“I advise you to take things a little bit slower,” he says to other founders. “Understand that sometimes these things take time. Look after yourself more.” 

After throwing everything he had into Virtual Valley for 18 months straight, Tom channeled patience into his next venture. 

Working a Recent Passion Into a New Job

Tom returned to London after living abroad during Virtual Valley’s development. He met up with his friend James, a coder working for several startups in the city. After they reconnected, the two decided to collaborate. 

“In 2017 and 2018, we built loads of different things that didn’t work,” Tom says. But this period of experimentation allowed him to recover from his burnout. He became an angel investor for several companies before landing a job as the Head of Demand Generation at Ebsta, a sales forecasting SaaS company. 

Tom ran inbound and outbound marketing campaigns to drive growth at Ebsta. Since the company sold software to other businesses, he targeted sales operations executives. But Tom didn’t know much about them or their buying behavior. He tried reaching out via phone or email, but usually, they declined his offers to chat. 

Remembering how well people responded to his podcast, Tom launched a B2B podcast called Sales Ops Demystified and recontacted those sales ops executives. When he asked them to chat as guests on his podcast, they said yes. 

“I thought this was the holy grail of B2B marketing.”

“We suddenly had our best customers come into our office to get interviewed where before they’d ignored us,” Tom says. “I was the host. The production value was quite low. Then we started getting some good traction. The guests shared their episodes on social media, so we got some inbound SEO. And then something magical happened.” 

The show’s 13th guest, whose name and company Tom did not reveal, was the VP of Sales Operations at a large SaaS company. After he appeared on the podcast, the VP reached out to Ebsta’s CEO and purchased sales software for 183 of his employees. Suddenly, Ebsta earned nine to ten times the ROI that it had spent on making the podcast in the first place. 

“I thought this was the holy grail of B2B marketing,” Tom says. “Because you have this direct attributable ROI from relationships with guests. Then you also get long-term brand building benefits.”

That was all it took to convince Tom to leave Ebsta in December 2019 and create B2B podcasts full-time. Tom asked his employer to be his first client, and he went on to produce 200 podcast episodes for Ebsta. The company’s still a client of Fame to this day, though Tom doesn’t host for them anymore. 

Once Ebsta’s podcast started performing well, Tom earned more clients, leading him to develop an official brand name for his podcasting business: Fame. 

Build an Audience Before a Product

Fame scored clients and revenue quickly thanks to a seed Tom planted while still working for Ebsta. After hours, he produced a daily newsletter, which he would send to fellow SaaS marketers with different tips and strategies. He also engaged with these marketers via a Facebook group. Both of these audiences became prospects when Fame launched. 

 “I understood them and then I built something that I thought could be good for them.”

“One of the reasons I started Fame was because I think it’s easier to build an audience and then sell them something they want rather than build a product you have to find an audience for,” Tom says. “I sought potential customers through this Facebook group and email list. After I told them what I was doing and asked if they wanted to start a podcast, it was easy to land Fame’s second and third clients after Ebsta.” 

He adds, “I understood them and then I built something that I thought could be good for them.”

Over the last year, Tom has developed Fame into a profitable business. Paid ads, SEO, and  LinkedIn sales provide a consistent roster of clients. He also appears regularly on other podcasts as a guest, pitching the benefits of Fame to new listeners. 

Tom’s goals for the future are now simple. “I enjoy building the business, building a team, and making the clients happy,” Tom says. “So as long as the team is happy, the client’s happy, and the business is growing, I’m happy.”

It’s gratifying to hear Tom finally succeeding after years of hard work. Despite a meandering career and several false starts, he found something he enjoyed, was good at, and gave clients a big return. What entrepreneur could ask for more?

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Leanne Stahulak
Leanne Stahulak
Leanne’s love of books inspired her to become an author at a young age. Though she began as a creative writer, Leanne also built up her skills and experience in journalism at Miami University. After graduating with three degrees, she now tells founder stories at Bootstrappers and writes about growth and entrepreneurship for MicroAcquire.

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