How John Rush Built 24 Profitable Startups Using One Secret Piece of Software

Somewhere in a forest near Istanbul, Turkey, John Rush powers up his computer and cracks his knuckles in anticipation of another day of work. Running 24 profitable startups simultaneously is John’s profession. He plans to reach 100 by 2025 and 1,000 by 2026.

One thousand profitable startups is an almost obscene number in an industry where most people struggle to build one. But John believes he’s developed the formula for creating wildly profitable online businesses. The backbone of his strategy is proprietary software he created called MarsX. He claims it helps him create new online businesses from templates in weeks.

One Marsx-powered business is used by cinemas all over the world (though is not publicly available). Others hold their own against VC-backed competitors. Each business is run by John and a single remote programmer, growing through marketing applications and detailed social media posts.

In a world of founders building in stealth mode, John shares his journey on Twitter and LinkedIn and spares no detail. Without a tool like MarsX, John’s confident that no other business could possibly keep pace with his growth.

John’s path to bootstrapping was much more convoluted than most. As a child, he lived in a remote village between Georgia and Russia with barely any internet access until 2007. He learned entrepreneurship working dangerous jobs like collecting pine cones from the tops of trees and rummaging for rotten vegetables to sell for a quick profit. 

After moving to Norway for university, John spent seven years working in failing VC-backed startups, even using his own money to keep them afloat. It’s what turned him on to bootstrapping and building lean, profit-oriented businesses.

Now John is accelerating the SaaS building process with his products, employing his ever-expanding social media presence to spread the word. Here’s the story behind one of the most interesting people in tech you’ve probably not heard of.

How Many Potatoes Does It Take to Buy a Computer?

John grew up in a small Turkish-ethnicity village in the mountains. Its 500 residents spoke their own language but enjoyed few modern conveniences. In fact, John didn’t even know what electricity was until he was eight.

John’s father was the village’s resident inventor. When John was a child, his father assembled a mill to convert corn into flour for the entire village. Later, he would set up a master radio antenna to send clearer signals to neighboring houses.

“My father was like the guy from the future in a village from the Middle Ages,” John laughs.

Growing up around his inventor father, and with few other forms of entertainment, John began tinkering with electronics once electricity came to town.

“I would find broken parts from TVs and use them to build stuff and sell it to people,” says John. “I liked to create things like radios or little cars with motors. I built a laser out of three simple parts that could project very far. It was much cheaper than what was on the market. I wasn’t the kind of guy to buy and sell for a profit. I would figure out how to build something at scale and sell it for even greater profit.”

John’s father wanted to give his son access to the modern world, so when John turned 13, his father cut him a deal. If John helped farm enough kilograms of potatoes to cover the cost, his father would buy him a computer. Excited, John worked hard hours for months until the day his father triumphantly returned as promised with a new desktop.

That computer became the center of John’s life.

“I had no other interests,” says John. “I’d run home from school every day to work on my computer.”

While John’s village now coursed with a small amount of electricity, there was still no internet. The only thing he could do on a computer with so few applications was learn to code.

“The computer was only an operating system,” says John. “It had just three boring games. I wanted to build my own games. The old computers came with guides on coding and I read those to learn.”

As John grew older, his entrepreneurial ambitions grew. But they clashed with the limitations of his surroundings. For example, he tried to flip used cell phones resulting in a confrontation with the local mafia. To learn about the outside world, he needed to leave his conservative village.

John normally took the bus into the nearest city once a month to pay for an hour in the internet cafe. During one of these excursions as a teenager, he applied to two computer engineering programs abroad, one in Norway and one in Germany. He believed it would be a long shot and thought nothing more of it.

However, one month later, John went back to the cafe for his dose of the World Wide Web and was welcomed by a pleasant surprise. He was accepted into a program at one of the subsidiary schools of Østfold University College, in Halden, Norway to study computer science. His life was about to change in a big way.

Making More Money Than the Professor as a Student

“Norway is a good place to go alone when you’re young,” says John. 

Halden, Norway ended up being only slightly larger than the village John grew up in which made the transition into the modern world easier.

I slept four hours max during that year

As an added bonus, all classes were in English (which he’d learned in school). The university was small and professors gave foreign students lots of individualized attention, especially John who many marked as a potential star student. 

John dived into his studies like a fish gasping to get back into the ocean. Finally, all the knowledge denied to him during his childhood was wide open and waiting to be digested. For the next year, John spent barely a moment outside of the classroom.

“I’d go to school all day, every day,” he says. “Otherwise, I would just go to other classes and seminars on campus. I would just go home to sleep.”

At university, John also discovered his first online business opportunity.

Building a reputation as the campus workhorse, John often helped other programming students with their assignments. This inspired John to create Rush Studio, a marketplace for programming students to pay other students to do their projects for them. However, in the early stages, John did all the work. In a year, he’d completed 1,000 assignments including part of a Ph.D. thesis.

“I slept four hours max during that year,” John says on his LinkedIn. “My eyes were red at all times.”

In 2010, John combatted burnout by hiring some of the brightest students at his university to manage Rush Studio’s workload while he took a 50 percent cut. The switch let him expand the business unfettered to other universities. He eventually began to make more money in a week than his professors would in a year.

Although the money was good, John knew he was helping students cheat on assignments. He eventually sold everything, files and all, to a competitor for a fresh start. 

It was a small sale by M&A standards, but five figures was a windfall for John. He credits the sale for bankrolling his career trajectory into startups instead of joining enterprises. Living in the student dorms, he knew he could subsist on his sale money for years.

Seven Years of Hard Labor to Impress VCs

While studying and running Rush Studio, John heard through the grapevine that the Norwegian government was establishing the nation’s first startup incubator, Startup Lab. They needed programmers, and John wanted to create tech startups.

Eager for his next challenge, John regularly took the train two hours from Halden to Oslo to work at the incubator.

Investors would rather startups become huge than profitable

A long commute would’ve been excruciating for many students, but John was exhilarated to meet founders and learn about startups. By 2010, fueled by the money from the sale of Rush Studio, John left school to focus entirely on startups. He expected to finish his degree later but never did.

In 2011, John pitched VCs a handful of startup ideas. Every investor gave him the same response: his ideas couldn’t produce the growth that investors expected. If he wanted to run a successful startup with investors, he needed to understand everything about how startups were built, marketed, scaled, and made profitable.

From 2011 to 2017, John claims to have labored 100 hours a week on various startups with no vacations or weekends off. He had few friends and no time for dating. 

“I was involved in probably thirty businesses over those years,” he says. “I was an investor, CTO, cofounder, everything. I loved startup culture. It was very romantic like in the movies.”

While initially enamored with the VC-funded startup culture, around the five-year mark in 2015, John noticed most VC-backed startups were failing. In fact, almost everyone he knew ran a failed or failing startup.

John believed he could save many of his startups by pivoting them to chase smaller, niche markets and aiming for profitability. But every time John sought profits, none of his cofounders or boards accepted his suggestions. He soon realized the way he wanted to build startups wasn’t compatible with the VC model. 

“Not all startups can be unicorns,” he says. “But investors would rather startups become huge than profitable.”

John helplessly watched as his ventures fell one by one to bankruptcy. In one particular case, he attempted to save a crashing startup by funding everyone’s salary for three years with his own funds.

Many of John’s projects began to wind down in his seventh year of startups. But he wasn’t burnt out. In fact, he was itching to strike out on his own. He could now fundraise, hire, design, market, and, of course, code. It was time to etch his mark on the world.

MarsX: The Low-Code Solution to Slow Development

In 2018, John devised MarsX, an application speeding up software building from twelve months to twelve days.

Devs used to go to startups and use the tools the business team selected that were optimized for productivity

What inspired him? John believes that since he started developing in 2009, startup coding tools have become less powerful and less efficient.

“I remember I used to make software in weeks because the companies I worked at used tools that were so powerful,” he says. “Devs used to go to startups and use the tools the business team selected that were optimized for productivity.”

Once developers took charge of which tools businesses used, John claims, they became less productive.

“Many devs chose tools that were fun but unproductive,” he says. “The job was more of a game to them. This caused more fragmentation of software development. Suddenly in 2012, you’d need a whole team to build a database. When I was a CTO, if you complained about the process being too slow the devs would simply leave.” 

John wanted to create a tool that harkened back to the kind he’d used in his early career. He experimented with different low-code, high-code, AI, and no-code tools until he developed the concept for MarsX.

“Every project is made up of building blocks,” he says. “Instead of building Uber from scratch, my program would provide the basic code for Uber and you’d build from there. My program would start from ninety percent with only ten percent of the project left. It worked out well.”

MarsX has two modes depending on which stage of startup construction a founder is performing. The first mode is a nocode tool similar to Bubble. However, instead of allowing founders to create whatever they want from scratch, it builds templates based on popular apps. For example, it can produce a close duplicate of Uber or a video streaming service like Netflix and much more. 

Once built, founders only need to modify their template with specific product details to operate a functioning SaaS product. 

After a founder creates their project, they can add custom code to it within MarsX. John likes his system better than Bubble because he believes every app eventually needs to switch from nocode to proprietary code. In tools like Bubble, a founder can never completely alter the backend. With MarsX, everything is already coded and a founder can add or subtract whatever they want.

Once John completed his prototype, he sought investors and nearly closed a seed round. However, days before closing the investment, he stopped short.

“After all this time, I asked myself, ‘Why am I doing this?’” 

John realized if he wanted to truly give his business room to pivot the way he wanted, he should bootstrap his new business.

Sell to People Who Like Productivity

For one year, John tried and failed to convince developers to use MarsX.

“Devs aren’t paid more when they are more productive, so you can’t sell them on that,” says John. “Developers have many concerns too. First, they ask if it works and then how many people use it. Can it handle a high load of calls? Can it do complex operations? Is it secure? Can I build on it? If you answer all ten questions they give you ten more. Devs only trust what they can try, test, and see.”

John realized the best way to convince people to use MarsX was to build projects with it. Not just clones of Airbnb and Instagram, but businesses with real customers. So he started using his own program to automate the tedious parts of the startup building process.

His first project on MarsX was called SEO Bot, a simple AI assistant to automate blog writing and boost organic traffic on Google. After SEO Bot, he continued replacing marketing processes with new SaaS businesses. In months, he’d replaced his entire ten-contractor marketing team with different tools.

“Every product is its own company and every product has its own developer,” says John. “I have the same number of employees as I do products.”

John posted about his products and his journey on Twitter and LinkedIn. Developers may not have shined to MarsX, but nontechnical founders signed onto John’s marketing products in droves, encouraged by his honest and transparent style online. 

“I gained traction fast,” says John. “Then I built other products for the same audience that got traction, and then they had cross traction. Eventually, some products went wild and grew really fast. When one product grows, all products grow because they have the same audience.”

In about a year, John spun up a handful of applications making a combined total of $2 million in ARR. By January 2024, he’d launched the rest of his suite of 24 products. In that month alone, he earned over $2 million in revenue.

Interest in MarsX also increased dramatically once people started trying John’s startups. By the time of our interview, over 70,000 were on the waitlist to use MarsX and many even offered to pay for early access.

But suddenly, John wasn’t in a hurry to sell MarsX. He was making good money and wanted to focus on compounding his revenue. Plus, he’d formed a new, loftier goal: a complete operating system for tech startups.

Unicorn Platform and the Future of Bootstrapped Startups

In 2023, John acquired a simple, bootstrapped landing page builder called Unicorn Platform for $800,000 (half cash, half stock in Mars) and turned it into the base for a new business idea. 

With an easy UI builder frontend and MarsX as the backend, John hopes to draw more founders into building startups with his software. His eventual goal; an entire ecosystem of customer-built SaaS businesses that easily integrate with each other without countless accounts and passwords.

The founder of the future is a marketer who can tell great stories and uses a large set of tools to operate the backend

“Right now, the tech industry is so fragmented,” he says. “I need twenty-five SaaS tools to run a business. With my platform, people add their credit cards, build a landing page, and they can use all these SaaS tools I’ve created in one click.”

Today, John’s upgraded Unicorn Platform is active and he’s hustling to bring more founders into his low-code ecosystem. John specifically tries to appeal to marketing talent, which he believes will be much more valuable for future startups in the new, low-code world.

“Most people think marketing is being automated by AI. But AI can’t help with serious marketing,” he says. “The founder of the future is a marketer who can tell great stories and uses a large set of tools to operate the backend.”

John also thinks startups should be created by only one founder rather than a group cofounders. He wants his tools to help make that possible.

“The productivity of one person versus a group is huge,” he says. “You can think of a hundred things in one minute but it would take twenty days to talk about them.”

John’s community-building goals extend outside of social media and Unicorn Platform. Perhaps ironically, he wants to return to village life. However, instead of a village of farmers, John wants to create a village of bootstrapped founders. He’s already started a small founder group in his forest outside of Istanbul but plans to relocate due to regional conflicts. All his codevelopers for MarsX are promised a place in his new utopia.

“I think a lot of people building stuff on the internet aren’t into city life,” he says. “A lot of them are into a quiet life, close to nature. However, I’ve realized that to make a large community, I need to hit ten million dollars in MRR to acquire land and start building the village.”

After completely transforming his life, selling a successful business, working for thirty VC-backed startups, and creating a successful business on his own, John has few regrets save one: he wishes he’d tried bootstrapping much sooner. 

“I spent four years spending my own money to save my startups,” he says. “If a startup is dying, let it die. The market is saying it doesn’t deserve to live.”

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