If you’re going to invest all of your time and energy into a startup, studies suggest extrinsic motivators like money won’t satisfy you for long1. For Cody Miles, founder of Ashore, money was always the means to an end: to give his son a better life than he’d had growing up.
Hoping to avoid his father’s mistakes, Cody has built a business for his family rather than himself. When his startup nearly failed, thoughts of paying the mortgage and saving for his son’s college fund pushed Cody to spend a year rewriting his software while juggling two businesses.
“Last Christmas, I gifted my wife a business plan for our family. I know, super lame and not romantic,” Cody says. “But the idea was that we’re on a mission to change the trajectory of the Miles family forever. And you do that through generational wealth and eliminating trauma.”
Cody wants to build that wealth through Ashore, a SaaS business that helps creative agencies collaborate and manage workflows. The inspiration? Solving problems at his first startup, a creative agency called Brandcave, which he continues to run today.
Now, Ashore services 15,000 accounts – including Brandcave – and continues to grow. While Cody still manages both companies, he’s investing more time into building Ashore’s recurring revenue to win long-term financial security for his family.
Unfortunately, that didn’t seem a viable scenario when Ashore’s “bubble gum and duct tape” prototype fizzled out after launch. Cody had a choice: rebuild it or give up.
A decision that would affect his family’s life forever.
To understand Cody’s approach to business, first consider his wife, Amy Miles. She’s the planner in the family who writes detailed to-do lists and researches every possible outcome of a decision. Stress can be overwhelming at first, but once plans are underway, the stress disappears.
Cody’s the opposite. He jumps head-first into a project with no plans or worries. The anxiety creeps in later, once the cracks in his can-do attitude appear. While useful in getting to market faster, Cody’s bold approach to entrepreneurship often results in problems he could’ve easily avoided.
For example, Cody rushed to quit his job and start a business after spending several years working in creative services and PR. During those years, one of Cody’s bosses would stop by his desk to chitchat about running a business. These conversations planted a seed in Cody’s head: Could he profit from his PR skills rather than his employer?
“I very naively thought I could make as much money as I was at the time while doing my own thing. Maybe I could work a little less but enjoy it more. The reality for anybody who bootstraps is that you work twice as hard and you make half as much for a while,” Cody says.
He learned that lesson the hard way after launching Brandcave in February 2015. Cody bootstrapped the business using a few months’ savings, but he didn’t plan how he would sell his marketing and creative services until after launching.
“I’m in this to make money, but I have a much deeper desire to do things for the family I’ve created that my family couldn’t do for me.”
“When I started Brandcave, it was just continually falling forward. Figuring things out like, What does a good pricing model look like? Are we retainer based? Are we using flat rates? Are we doing time spent?” Cody says. “It was just constant iterations and small pivots to eventually figure out what works, what’s profitable, and what processes make sense.”
Cody kept his mission in mind while working on these solutions. “I’m in this to make money, but I have a much deeper desire to do things for the family I’ve created that my family couldn’t do for me.”
Cody only saw his father once a year growing up. A failed entrepreneur, his father had tried everything from A/C repair to construction to hospitality. Young Cody watched him “start, succeed, and crash” often and refused to follow in his footsteps with Brandcave.
Building routines for deliverables and crafting a two-part pricing model helped Brandcave retain and gain clients. But in 2016, Cody noticed that some of his clients struggled to provide constructive feedback on his content. He wanted to automate the review process so that he didn’t have to chase clients or try to make sense of vague comments scattered through emails.
Duct Tape and Bubble Gum
A year after Brandcave’s launch, Cody shared an early Ashore prototype with fellow agencies to universal acclaim. While establishing product-market fit and validating the concept, he spent the next two years designing an MVP and invested $100,000 to build it in 2019.
One developer spent six months building the software, and within the first year, about 4,000 customers signed up for it. Businesses subscribed under a freemium model that offered more file downloads and user signups for higher-paying tiers.
But within Ashore’s first year, Cody ran into coding issue after coding issue. Looking back, he wishes he’d invested more money into a team of developers. That first engineer appeared to have built Ashore with just “duct tape and bubble gum,” and as a result, bugs were common.
“It had the weirdest issues. You would use a feature on this side of the app and something on that side would break. I was constantly firefighting,” Cody says. “But at the same time, we validated the idea. We got feedback and knew that it could make some money.”
Cody partnered with a CTO in 2019, and together, the duo rebuilt the software from scratch. While the CTO handled mostly back-end decisions on the software, Cody designed the UX and built the front end to help the product run smoothly from the user’s perspective.
Ashore is now a “perfected” version of the old product. It contains updated features that support a greater variety and volume of files. Agencies still use it to communicate with their clients and automate the feedback process for content.
To entice high-paying customers to use Ashore, Cody established a tiered pricing model that gated special features like whitelabeling. Rather than build their own system, agencies could add their branding to Ashore to create a seamless experience for their clients.
“The way you make a product accessible in our case is to remove every barrier to adoption. Everything that touches the reviewer is whitelabeled down to the emails sent from our system. Just to make sure that this software can be adopted by people who are not tech savvy,” Cody says.
“There’s no authentication for reviewers and they don’t need to create an account. Everything from the URL to the colors on the screen to the logo can be whitelabeled,” he adds. “The proofing tools themselves are not complicated either. You just click and make a comment, record yourself doing a video, or draw on the screen.”
When Cody launched Ashore as a SaaS business in January 2020, the whitelabeling function helped the business earn revenue quickly. A project management software company called Function Point used Ashore’s whitelabeling service six months later. Accounts like this led to bigger contracts with brands like Tyr, CapitalOne, and Airbnb.
Double Duty as CEO and Father
As Ashore started gaining momentum, the pandemic struck in March 2020. Cody’s progress ground to a halt as direct-to-consumer clients lost customers during lockdown. Print shops that needed to collaborate with customers, for example, stopped using Ashore when customer spending dropped in 2020.
Brandcave, on the other hand, reported a huge boost in business as B2B clients clamored for more UX services. Cody could then hire employees to cover service, sales, and marketing, freeing his time to build infrastructure that made both businesses self-sustaining.
As a result, Cody earned more time to spend with his newborn son, Indy. No more twelve-hour days in the office six to seven days a week.
“It’s kind of funny how having a kid makes you think differently about business. It forces you to be smarter because time is the commodity that we care about,” Cody says. “My kid’s not going to understand. He’s not going to look back and say, ‘I understand why you weren’t there, Dad.’”
Today Cody’s managed to stretch family days into full weekends. And he still manages to grow Ashore’s revenue to create a financially-stable home for his son.
“I’m trying to do something for him that no one did for me,” Cody adds. “But I’m not going to sacrifice being a good father in the process.”
Cody’s balanced being a good father and CEO to two thriving companies. Despite setbacks during the pandemic, he ended 2020 with twice the revenue he earned with Ashore pre-rebuild. Now 2022 has been Cody’s best year to date with six-figure revenue for Ashore and nearly seven figures for Brandcave.
Part of why he’s been able to achieve so much success while still caring for his family is thanks to Amy’s support.
“My wife’s very involved. And I think that’s why launching Brandcave and Ashore has worked so well. I think many marriages fail in the early days of bootstrapping a company or starting any company,” Cody says. “So much is required of you. I worked six or seven days a week for years. And if I didn’t have a supportive partner who knew exactly what I was going through and understood why I was doing it, I might’ve failed.”
For other entrepreneurs looking to build or grow their businesses, Cody recommends developing three key qualities.
“You need perseverance, resilience, and perspective,” the Ashore founder says. “So many days you’re just hitting your head against a wall. But having the perspective to acknowledge that is important. Having the resilience to know that your head hurts but you’re going to keep hitting it anyway is important.”
Cody ran into quite a few walls while building Brandcave and Ashore. But each setback reminded him what he was fighting for and why he started this business in the first place: to build a future for his family that he only ever dreamed of having as a kid.
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