Many founders launch businesses to address problems they’ve personally encountered. But how many sit on the opposite side of the table and dive into fixing others’ problems? Untraditional? Maybe. But sometimes, the best ideas arise from careful observation.
Adam Hoeksma, founder of Projection Hub, is a CPA by profession. He’s not intimidated by numbers but quickly realized that most entrepreneurs don’t share his passion.
During the day, he reviewed financial projections for a Small Business Administration (SBA) microlender. He knew how important these documents were for raising funding, specifically an SBA loan. It’s one thing to sell a potential lender an idea but it’s another to back up projections with thoughtful data analysis.
But many budding entrepreneurs get wrapped up in the more alluring parts of building a business. The sales and marketing campaigns. The promotional swag. Flashy logos will always win out over Excel spreadsheets, Adam knew, and people would groan whenever he asked for their projections. He calls it “deer in headlights syndrome.” Could he do something about it?
What’s Standing Between an Entrepreneur and Capital?
Why do people have such a hard time balancing their finances? Adam explains: “No one wakes up and says, ‘I want to make projections today.’ I don’t even do it unless someone forces me. But people need to do it. It’s the thing standing between you and the money.”
Financial projections are dry and intimidating but entrepreneurs have to do them. “As a lender, we’d ask for projections not because we believed them outright, but because it’s an important exercise for a business. Do you understand what levers in your business matter? For investors and lenders, seeing a good set of projections builds confidence.”
Considerate and careful planning is a necessary evil. Harvard Business Review writes: “Many entrepreneurs start businesses to seize short-term opportunities without thinking about long-term strategy. Successful entrepreneurs however soon make the transition from a tactical to a strategic orientation so that they can begin to build crucial capabilities and resources.”
If companies like Turbo Tax could make the filing taxes painless (or less painful), why hadn’t anyone done the same for financial projections? Intuitive software, Adam realized, could persuade more entrepreneurs to embrace projections as a strategic asset rather than avoid them. “I realized that I could build a step-by-step solution on how to create projections,” Adam says. “I could walk people through the process because I knew what was involved.”
Adam tapped his brother, then a senior in high school, to build the software. In exchange, his brother received shares in the company. Dreams of monthly recurring revenue appeared before Adam’s eyes. Even so, he kept his day job for added security.
Finding Clients and Assuaging Doubts
Adam’s day job could have fed him a limitless supply of customers. But he couldn’t share his software without invoking a conflict of interest. If businesses found Adam’s solution organically, however, that would be one hundred percent kosher. Free advice seemed the best way to attract that audience: “I’m an entrepreneur. I like helping entrepreneurs. It was fun to be able to do that.”
Adam began writing voraciously. The plan was to be an outspoken leader in small business finance so clients could find him through web searches related to that topic: “I wrote and wrote. I thought, ‘If I keep writing, someone will find us.’ I wrote more about financial projections than anyone else.” It worked. The clients found him.
I’d love to tell you that his business was an overnight success. But it would take another few years to find product-market fit. For one, the software was buggy, and secondly, each client needed customization. But the biggest rub? The brothers had worked so hard to build something unique but ended up with an iteration of Excel. Did they just reinvent the wheel?
Adam explains: “We had a bit of a crisis. Are we just rebuilding Excel? What are we doing?” The brothers debated whether customization was the right path for the business. Their current software, they realized, was “the most expensive lead-generating tool ever.” It didn’t fulfill needs in the way they’d hoped, so they would work directly with clients to address those needs.
How to Scale When Customization Demands Your Attention
To scale the business, Adam would need to standardize the process for various industries. Here’s how it worked: “We hired a CPA to help with consulting and she would build a model for, say, a coffee shop that needed projections. Then, we had a coffee shop template in our library. Then we’d do a B2B SaaS business and that would be another template.”
Projection Hub grew slowly and steadily after that. The team began to sell the templates individually and soon built 60 different industry variations of Excel templates. Adam also added YouTube videos to walk clients through filling out specific forms. Although form-filling can be a bit of a bore, Adam’s templates did most of the work. And customers loved it.
Enter Projection Hub’s third iteration. Although Adam still sells his templates directly to entrepreneurs, he’s added a B2B model that is paying off handsomely. Adam now licenses the entire template library to a group of small business consultants. He explains: “Every state has its own partially government-funded small business development centers with free business advisors. We license our templates to them.”
Forget the adage, “Don’t work with family.” Adam has watched his brother grow from a high-school student to a successful software developer. Although he eventually bought out his brother’s shares, there were no hard feelings. Adam says, “I couldn’t have built Projection Hub without him.”
When to Leave Your Side Hustle and Make Money Moves
Adam didn’t leave his day job for ten years. Why? “Before you make it your full-time job, prove that the business is there and that it’s consistently earning money before you make the jump,” Adam says. Wise words for any bootstrapper just starting their journey.
But I’ve saved Adam’s best advice for last. And it’s probably not what you were expecting to hear from a man who has made financial projections his life: “If you have a business idea, don’t worry about creating projections. Just start. You’ll learn way more by figuring stuff out.” But when you are ready to take the next step, you know who to call.
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