How a Pay It Forward Approach Helped This Founder Create Opportunities for Underrepresented Communities

Matt Ruiz knows rejection. When he graduated from college, he applied to at least a hundred jobs in the technology field, but no one gave him a chance. It didn’t make sense. He spent his senior year in college preparing for life outside of university. He taught himself Swift because he saw how prevalent mobile apps were, and he wanted a leg up after graduation. It didn’t matter. Not a single company was interested.

He was days away from packing up and heading home to work in construction with his uncle when he received word that a coding bootcamp had accepted his application. This opportunity changed the course of Matt’s future and he wouldn’t soon forget the experience. It jumpstarted his mission to help underrepresented and diverse workers find a place in the technology industry. His company, TroutHouseTech (THT), invests in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) not just as a sales tactic but as a company ethos. 

All He Needed Was One Chance

Matt was excited about the bootcamp. It promised a strong foundation in Salesforce and placement at a tech company upon completion. He grabbed the opportunity. “I was broke. I ubered and lyfted, but it wasn’t enough. I’m five foot eight inches so going back to a job in construction meant that I was the one sent into crawl spaces under houses and attics.” Matt knew he had something to prove.

Matt soaked up everything at bootcamp and performed at the top of his class. When it came time for job placements, Matt received some unusual news. He did such a great job that the company decided to hire him internally instead of placing him out. He spent the next year leading and teaching the classes he’d just completed as a student. The hours were long (60-hour weeks were not uncommon), and Matt felt his quality of life depleting by the minute. When he decided to leave and go off on his own, he was confident that he would find success as a freelance technology consultant.

The plan was to help people optimize their websites and mobile apps. Matt specialized in Salesforce applications, which was the main focus of the bootcamps. Matt needed to brush up on his coding from his college days to cater to other frameworks. He spent the next couple of months living off of his savings. He searched for clients on Upwork but he was in a bit of a bind due to his limited experience.

He decided to price himself much lower than his competition. Once again, all he needed was one person to take a chance on him. He bid on jobs from small businesses. His rationale was that these companies would be more inclined to hire scrappy employees who lacked traditional credentials. Matt’s thinking paid off and he landed his first client. Many soon followed.

Matt quickly noticed a pattern. Even though his clients were grateful for the lower price point, they were wary and brow-beaten. Matt probed. Many founders had been burned before, and some had lost thousands of their hard-earned money on projects that went nowhere. Matt explains: “They were scammed for thousands of dollars or years of their time. And that’s time and money that they’ll never get back.” Matt leaned on his skills as a teacher to put his clients at ease. And then he got to work to deliver the best possible product in the quickest time possible.

TroutHouseTech’s mission is front and center.

Building a Team without Capital

Matt began accumulating clients at a rapid clip, but he still didn’t have any money to his name. At the time, he wasn’t getting paid until he delivered finished projects. Matt needed help, but who would work for free? He put out a call on Upwork with his fingers crossed. Enter Edwards Moses, a developer in Nigeria. He believed in Matt and was willing to take a gamble and offer his skills knowing it would take a while for compensation. 

Matt finally had some help and things were looking up. Unfortunately, the good fortune didn’t last long. He began having some vision problems, so he went to the eye doctor hoping for a reprieve. The doctor told him to go straight to the ER and that’s when Matt realized that this was not a minor issue. After a few terrifying hours, he received a brain tumor diagnosis right on the heels of taking on loads of new work. It was a devastating blow but somehow, Matt persevered. He never wanted his illness to define him, rather, he viewed it as another obstacle to overcome. 

Matt speaks casually of his diagnosis: “I couldn’t see past a foot. Everything was really blurry, I couldn’t hear in my left ear. But it was okay because all I needed was a foot. Luckily, I’m in software development so I only need to see a foot in front of me, and I still could.” 

One Foot in Front of the Other

The support Matt felt in his community motivated him to keep going. He didn’t have insurance and he watched with awe as colleagues and perfect strangers from LinkedIn and social media rallied behind him financially and mentally. “It was cool to have people reach out and tell me they were here for me.” Their generosity stayed with Matt and continued to inform his overall pay-it-forward mission.

Before his surgery, Matt told Edwards: “I will be unconscious for the next couple of days. I need you to be readily available.” Even though he was in a battle for his life, Matt thought about business. Roughly three weeks after surgery, Matt’s vision returned and he never looked back: “We started the up climb at that point.” A month later, he started radiation treatment and kept working.

True to his early mission, Matt wanted to mentor people who were overlooked in the technology industry. He’d been in survival mode (in every sense of the word), but now that THT had grown, he could finally help marginalized employees get their start in the industry. 

This was an actionable way to put his money where his mouth was. But – about that money. Matt hadn’t yet adjusted his payment model and was having a hard time paying his employees when he wasn’t getting paid himself. He needed to change it up. 

A sampling of recent projects

As Matt worked through his growing pains, he needed to ensure that clients wouldn’t withhold payments. He shifted from milestone-based payments that clients had to sign off to weekly payments that guaranteed cash flow to pay employees no matter what. This helped THT average roughly $30,000 each month.

Diversity Hires Start at Home

Once THT moved toward its new model, the team’s makeup was reflective of its overall mission. “Clients aren’t just buying into my vision, they see our team as well. One-third of our team is women, many of us are POC, and we all come from diverse backgrounds.”

Matt also prides himself on THT’s ability to deliver the best product. “Our team knows how to build a product and we know how to build it very cheaply. We pass these savings on to our clients. We don’t build the flashiest and fanciest MVP, but we build a great product that we scale over time with new features, efficiency, and all that fun stuff.”

Matt didn’t just practice diversity with his internal hires, he took it a step further. Inspired by his own bootcamp experience, he created mini bootcamps for marginalized communities and partnered with his startup clients.

Matt’s army of one quickly grew into an international team.

Back to Basics (er Bootcamps)

Here’s how it works: THT recruits junior developers and takes them through a training program to prepare them for jobs in the startup industry. As they go through the asynchronous training, THT pairs them with startups. These businesses pay THT a management fee in exchange for finding diverse workers.

Matt wants to use his story to inspire other budding entrepreneurs from all walks of life: “You never want to look back and regret not making the jump, You never know what’s going to hit you so you might as well just do it. If that’s where your heart is, do it.”

And in case you’re anything like me and curious about the meaning behind TroutHouseTech, there’s a great story there: “I’m going to be truthful. I’ve spent many times thinking about this scenario and wondering how I will answer it. In college, I hung out with friends and we smoked a bunch of pot called weed trout. And we always said, ‘Hey if we get successful, we’re going to call it Trout House.’ So, I had the opportunity to build the business, and TroutHouseTech it is.” No one said Matt didn’t know how to have fun.

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Andrew Gazdecki
Andrew Gazdecki
Andrew is an award-winning serial entrepreneur with three exits. He’s the founder and CEO of MicroAcquire, the world’s most founder-friendly startup marketplace, and its rebellious child, Bootstrappers, which gives voice to the entrepreneurial underdog. When not building businesses, he writes for Forbes, Entrepreneur, and now, Bootstrappers.

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