About this episode

This week I’d like to introduce you to Chris Brownridge,, co-founder and CEO of GawkBox. GawkBox was a third party platform that allowed people to tip their favorite live streamers without having to pay anything. They did this through various incentivized actions like installing an app, for example. Unlike some of our past founders, Chris’s startup, GawkBox, is no longer around. He had to shutter his business in July 2019. Chris and his team raised $4.4 million during their three-year run and just could not solve some key challenges.

We're also fortunate enough to hear the lessons learned from someone who accomplished so much in such a short amount of time. In this episode, Chris gets very tactical, explaining what he would do differently in his next startup. Not all founder stories are the same, but there are many parallels that exist. As Chris shared his story, I was often reminded of my own experience with closing my startup.

This episode is a powerful one for each of us because we get to hear from a founder who is still processing the journey after having to close his startup only three months ago. Part of what makes Chris's journey so interesting is that the challenges of entrepreneurship are not foreign to him. He was surrounded by entrepreneurs from a very young age and got to witness the ups and downs that come with it and yet he still chose to make it his own journey. This is Chris Brownridge’s startup story.

In this episode, you’ll hear

  • His early childhood, entrepreneurship being “in his blood,” and what entrepreneurship was like as a child in the U.K.
  • Experiencing firsthand (through his family’s businesses) the highs and the lows of entrepreneurship as a child, teen, and young adult
  • Going to college without any real direction of what he wanted to do, experimenting with entrepreneurship using eBay, selling bread bins, and starting a subscription condom company
  • His first foray into the startup world, moving to Paris after university, working for an AI startup which was later bought by a U.S. company
  • How his job at the AI startup was a really good springboard for moving forward
  • His experience of working at Google for four years prior to moving to the USA to work for a startup called Vungle and how he came to work with them
  • Leaving San Francisco, relocated to Seattle, and laying the foundation for what would become GawkBox
  • About testing GawkBox with various streamers on sites like YouTube and Twitch for a year, learning the ecosystem of streaming and getting paid for streaming, identifying retention issues but not truly resolving them and launching the app in 2017
  • Going live with GawkBox, obtaining funding, lessons learned in hindsight of what Chris and his team did right and wrong
  • Back to the drawing board with the startup, launching tournaments, and other experiments to keep the startup alive; the ultimate decision to close the startup in July 2019

Resources from this episode:

Chris Brownridge on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/chrisbrownridge/
Pastel Frog: https://pastelfrog.com/
Entrepreneur’s Handbook Article: https://entrepreneurshandbook.co/after-more-than-3-years-we-just-shut-our-company-down-what-did-i-learn-71938679df7d
Brian Burke on The Startup Story:
The Startup Story on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thestartupstory/

$50 discount from Article: https://www.article.com/startupstory

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Special Guest: Chris Brownridge.

Episode transcript

The Startup Story - Chris Brownridge

Chris Brownridge: Hi. This is Chris Brownridge, founder and CEO of GawkBox, and this is MY startup story.

James McKinney: Every wildfire began with a spark. Every superhero has an origin story. And every single startup has a moment that they point to as their beginning. And every founder has a purpose that drove them in the midst of all obstacles. THAT is The Startup Story.

James McKinney: Before we jump into this week's episode, I want to read a review from Ahmed Sabiani who gives the podcast five stars and writes, "A must listen to podcast! Kudos to James, you are amazing! Thanks for putting together wonderful episodes. This podcast is very addicting. Every episode is unique and shows how entrepreneurs overcome challenges to make their dreams come true. Please visit Livecart.ai, follow our social media accounts, and support our purpose driven company with your feedback." Well, thank you Ahmed for the great review, and after visiting your website, Livecart.ai, I think you should reach out to Zack Swire on LinkedIn. He was actually our featured founder in episode 22, so make sure to listen to his episode first and then reach out to him. His background and expertise may be of significant help to you.

And that is what The Startup Story is all about, entrepreneurs helping other entrepreneurs. So if you have found any value in The Startup Story, please live a written review on iTunes and plug your brand, URL, or social media accounts. Just like Ahmed experienced with his startup and URL, it becomes a mini ad and is just a way of saying thank you for taking the time to leave a review. The written reviews mean a ton for being discovered within the iTunes platform. Climbing the charts on iTunes is not just about listeners, but it's about engaging. Listening is one way iTunes measures engagement, but written reviews have a multiplying effect. So please leave those written reviews. Now let's jump into this week's episode.

Our guest this week is Chris Brownridge, founder of GawkBox. GawkBox was a third party platform that allowed people to tip their favorite live streamers without having to pay anything. They did this through various incentivized actions, like installing an app for example. So if you were watching your favorite streamer on Twitch and wanted to tip them a few bucks, you could install an app and the streamer would get paid.

As we unpacked his journey, I really thought it was a pretty cool concept. So if you've been in active listening mode, then you'll have caught on a few choice word tenses, because GawkBox is no longer around. Chris had to shutter his business in July of this year. In fact, July 3rd, in a late evening board meeting, the decision was made to close it down. Chris and his team raised $4.4 million during their three year run and just could not solve some key challenges. This episode is a powerful one for each of us, because we get to hear from a founder who is still processing the journey after having just closed his business three months ago.

Chris Brownridge: You wonder if you're a failure. You wonder if, am I ever cut out to do this again or cut out for it originally, and you've let people down. So I thought about it. But I think I was doing that because I was judging it based upon financial success rather than the personal learnings I had going through that process and through the past three years of actually starting and growing the company, and then ultimately shutting it down. It is a lot of learnings to come out of that, and that is the most important thing, and where I'm going to be judging my success moving forward. That's not to discount the importance of financial returns for people. Of course people want that and I'm not going to discount that, but from a personal perspective I think if you look at every project that you attack with a goal in mind to learn as much as possible, if that's your yardstick for success then you'll be successful.

James McKinney: We are also fortunate enough to hear the lessons learned from someone who accomplished so much in such a short amount of time. Yes, Chris gets very tactical in laying out what he would do differently in his next start up. So if you tend to listen to podcasts while driving or working out, this is one you're going to want to listen to a second time so you can jot down some notes. And part of what makes Chris' journey so interesting is that the challenges of entrepreneurship were not foreign to him. He was surrounded by entrepreneurs from a very young age, and got to witness the ups and downs that come with it. And yet, he still chose to make it his own journey.

Chris Brownridge: Both my father, grandfather, both entrepreneurs, both separately and then together. So my grandfather when he was alive a long time ago, before I was even around, I think he owned a TV show. He was an electrician. Him and my dad bought a factory together in the mid eighties. It was a metal fabrication company. They made fire inserts, you know fireplaces you see inside living rooms. They made those. They also made microwave parts for companies like Panasonic. Actually, my dad's still doing that today. He still has that factory back near Birmingham in the UK. It's a lot smaller than it was, but he's done that for a long time. So they bought that together in mid eighties, gone through a lot of ups and downs I would say. Downs, the recessions.

James McKinney: So being that you were raised by your father who's an entrepreneur, then you have your grandfather as an entrepreneur. You just mentioned from Birmingham in the UK, what was entrepreneurship like as a child for you in the UK, as opposed to your experience here in the states? Was this a big area? Is Birmingham a big area, a big metropolitan area? What was entrepreneurship like for you and what was your vision for what your future was?

Chris Brownridge: Birmingham is a fairly big city. It's the second largest city in the UK. It's very industrial, so you'll tend to find a lot of other factories there as well. That's really kind of all I knew at that point I think. I can't pretend to say I had a vision when I was younger for what I wanted to be. I just had exposure through my dad and my granddad, and actually my mom because she works and still does today at my dad's company. So I had a lot of exposure to that. I was actually working in there from a young age. They had me both packing things to go out for dispatch. I'd be in the electric shop crimping wires alongside my grandmother, who was also there, and my cousins who were also there, and my brother and friends. It felt like they decided to rope in as many folks as possible from within the family and made it a family affair, which is pretty fun.

So I had a lot of exposure to that growing up. I would say that because of that, it inspired me to want to continue down that pathway. I've seen firsthand the highs and the lows. There's definitely a lot of lows in entrepreneurship which maybe people don't talk about a lot. Some of the challenges my parents went through with their company over the past 30 years now, it hasn't all been highs. It's been lows. The recessions and the uncertainty around Brexit even today means that it's not easy for them. In spite of all the difficulties they've had, I found it inspiring how they always found a way to get through it. They persevered, they persisted all the time.

James McKinney: Do you remember one in particular, one season in your we'll say middle school or high school years, where something it was really challenging period for your dad in running that business? And the reason I'm asking that particular question is that as high school comes to a close for you, that's a pivotal chapter for everyone to figure out what is that next step for us. For some, it's I want to go to college or university to do something stable, doctor, lawyer, accountant, whatever the case may be. Or it's I want to ditch university and start my own business. But I think that decision can be flavored by the seasons of their middle school and high school years, and the things they've experienced from a family dynamic. So do you remember an incredibly challenging season that your parents allowed you to have insight into when it came to the business?

Chris Brownridge: The most challenging season I remember was actually a little later when I was at university. I think I was probably in the second or third year of my degree and they went through a period when they actually had to close the business.

James McKinney: Oh wow.

Chris Brownridge: That was extremely difficult. I remember calling home and it being a tough time for them both. I can't remember if they still had a mortgage or not, but they certainly were paying for two sons at university. Being a parent myself now, I can understand that would have been worrying not knowing where your next paycheck is going to come from, so that was extremely difficult for them and I definitely felt that through talking to them. I wasn't living at home then so I didn't necessarily have the exposure to it, but I remember talking on the phone and hearing how hard it was. What I found ultimately, the most inspiring from that is that they found a way to restart. While it downsized from where they were before, they restarted and became much happier with the new company. They were a much smaller company than it was before, but I think the stress levels had dropped and they ultimately were happier doing that after that period.

James McKinney: Oh man. I kind of want to have your dad on The Startup Story now.

Chris Brownridge: I actually just talked to him about an hour ago. I'll invite him on after.

James McKinney: Oh my goodness, that's incredible. So you were in university when you found this out. I too, my dad lost his business when I was out of the house and so I remember journeying with him through that, so I know how challenging it is. Having lost my own businesses, I definitely know the emotional toil that season is. But you were in university for a reason. What did you think, prior to that experience, what did you think you wanted to do?

Chris Brownridge: I wish I could give you a straight answer. I actually, I don't think I knew. I went to university and studied French and German as my majors.

James McKinney: Which is very useful everywhere.

Chris Brownridge: Yeah, what the hell am I going to use that for. And ironically I don't really use it today. But I honestly didn't know. I think I remember a slight preference from my mom to go down that root of getting a job I think probably because of the stresses of the company and the difficulties they've had. My parents have always been supportive, have never pushed me down a route that they wanted rather than me. They've always been incredibly supportive, and whatever decision I made they were happy with. So I chose to do French and German for reasons I have no idea about. I was good at languages, but that's about it. I went to college not knowing what I wanted to do. That didn't stop me from trying different ideas out. I think I always had this entrepreneurial streak to me and did try a few different completely random experiments through university.

James McKinney: Let's talk about those. What were some of those experiments? Some of those are really like breadcrumbs that point to where we end up getting to, and I love hearing some of these early stage hustles.

Chris Brownridge: Oh man, I have some really weird ones. I wanted to build this eBay empire. I think at the time, eBay was huge so this was 15 or 17 years ago. eBay was kind of in its heyday back then. I thought well, I'm going to try my hand at buying and selling things. So I used to pick out anything and everything. First thing I did was I effectively became a ticket [inaudible 11:45]. I would buy concert tickets and sports tickets, and then resell them on eBay. I had no idea this wasn't allowed, by the way, and then consequently got my dad's company eBay account banned because I used that to do the selling, so that wasn't great. I also sold bread bins. I'm not really sure if you know what those are, but they're kind of like containers you put bread in, in the kitchen.

James McKinney: They sit on the countertop and just store bread?

Chris Brownridge: Yeah.

James McKinney: Okay, okay.

Chris Brownridge: I've not seen many people have them, which may be why I didn't sell a lot of them, but I used to sell those, pocket the money from them instead of giving back to my dad. I think he maybe just thought of it as he's funding my university drinking. I also used to go round to these weird pub auctions, and they used to hold these… I was at University at Knottingham. They used to hold these auctions in the back rooms of pubs and it smelled really bad of stale alcohol, cigarettes because you could smoke inside at the time. And they used to auction off, there'd be a guy or a lady on the stage in the front of this room and they'd auction off these knockoff electronics good. You're kind of buying them blind, so I put a bid in for $50 and I remember getting this random branded camera. It wasn't even branded actually. It was a camera that looked terrible. I somehow managed to sell it for a profit on eBay, the poor person that bought that from me, and other random things like that. So I used to try my hand and getting and buying TVs out of those things as well. I don't think my parents ever knew this, so they'll find out pretty quickly now.

James McKinney: That's awesome.

Chris Brownridge: A little later, probably my crowning achievement or not, was starting a subscription condom company, thinking that was a good idea.

James McKinney: This was while you were at university?

Chris Brownridge: This was actually slightly afterwards.

James McKinney: Slightly after.

Chris Brownridge: Yeah. So you'd think I'd got a bit wiser, but I hadn't. I thought that the subscription condom market would be a huge one to attack, completely ignoring the fact that you can get condoms free through family planning clinics, and bought I think it was 21,000 condoms through a friend of mine, and proceeded to sell very little of them and left almost all of them in my parents garage. I don't think I've got any left to this day, but I'm pretty sure my dad sold a lot of them on eBay after that point.

James McKinney: That's awesome. That is awesome. It's in that you brought up eBay. The condom subscription business is interesting as well because now you think about it, and it's like wow, Roman is doing something similar. There is something to that. You were ahead of your time and maybe just an execution misstep. But when you talk about eBay, it's interesting because a couple episodes ago we had Brian Burke from sellyourmac.com. He actually too started a side hustle in college that was just selling like used cell phones. Like flip phones like Razrs, things like that. At the time, it was just a side gig but now he's Ink 5000. I think he's doing $20 million a year in resales, so eBay is still 180 million eyeballs a month. It's still a huge platform. It's interesting because so many people still think it's irrelevant because we rely on Amazon for everything, but eBay is still massive. And again, sellyourmac.com is making $20 million a year selling MacBooks.

Chris Brownridge: Wow. I should talk to him. I've got a few MacBooks to sell actually. I should reach out.

James McKinney: There you go. A little self plug, somewhere in that episode he provides a code to get like a free percentage above resale value for listening to The Startup Story, but that's neither here nor there.

Chris Brownridge: Oh sweet, okay. I'll go back and listen to it.

James McKinney: You graduate with a degree in French and German, and you realize wow, this is perfect for starting a condom subscription company. So you start that. What were some things that you realized, was your vision for that a legit business or was it just a side gig for you?

Chris Brownridge: It was a side gig. I think something that I personally probably was guilty of back then was tending to rush into things without always thinking things through. I wouldn't say I had a robust plan for it at that stage. It was more like hell yeah, let's give this a shot and if it works, great. If not, you know we've learned.

James McKinney: You learned step one, market research. Oh wait, you can get these for free.

Chris Brownridge: Yeah, I think that's… yeah. Looking back, should have done that first. So I didn't really have a vision for that, but what I did do after I graduated was actually move to Paris for a year or so and worked in my first startup there in an artificial intelligence company, which was pretty cool.

James McKinney: What was the name of that company?

Chris Brownridge: It was called Virtuose and they were later bought by a US company called Nuance Communications. It was a really cool experience. My first foray into the startup world, and obviously my first proper job as well really after graduating. I went to Paris without a job, with a friend of mine. We got an apartment and really I'd have taken any job there was. I applied for tons of jobs, didn't get any offers for anything I applied for. Found this one at Virtuose and the salary they offered me was 12,000 Euros a year, which I'm not sure if you've spent any time in Paris but you cannot live on 12,000 Euros a year in Paris. So given I had no other offers, I couldn't really… didn't have much of a negotiating position. I took that job and had to go begging my parents for some extra pocket money every month to help make my rent and live a semi decent lifestyle, but it was a great experience.

James McKinney: What was your role in that company?

Chris Brownridge: I was a product manager. It was kind of undefined, like many startup roles are at the beginning, but it was great. It was really enjoyable. I was speaking French every single day and interestingly, when you get a degree in a language, people tell you you're fluent in French but you're absolutely not. You've got no idea. I had to go and work there for a year speaking French every day, working in French every day to actually get fluent. It served that purpose. It also exposed me to, the first time I'd ever seen a real startup working and a technology company, and I think actually that was a really good springboard for me moving forward as it gave me a lot of great experience, valuable experience, in that time management products, managing some products.

James McKinney: What was the year of that experience? When were you in Paris?

Chris Brownridge: 2007.

James McKinney: So in the US, we were just about to enter the worst recession of our history, which obviously had global impact. So you're there 2007, you worked for them for a year you said?

Chris Brownridge: Just over a year, yep.

James McKinney: So what was it like in Paris during that season? Did it impact you at all?

Chris Brownridge: The time I was there was before the recession really took hold. So I can't say I really felt it, and then I was lucky enough to go and work for Google for a while, who was somewhat immune to the recession that we had.

James McKinney: Oh yeah, yeah.

Chris Brownridge: So I remember feeling it a little bit in Dublin. So I actually moved from Paris to Dublin to work for Google. Rather kind of feeling it myself, it was more so the environment around me. I had friends that were in jobs in banking in particular in Ireland, a lot of my friends were in banking and they lost their jobs. It was more from others that I was exposed to or friends that I really felt that more than myself, and I think I was very lucky.

James McKinney: So you're with Nuance. You come to work for Google in Dublin. At what point do you come to the states and for what reason?

Chris Brownridge: I came to the states in 2012. So I was in Google for four years and then left Google to join a really small company called Vungle. Originally a UK based company. Zain and Jack, the cofounders of Vungle, actually came across the states, raised some money. Went through an incubator called Angel Pad in San Francisco, raised $2 million, and I joined shortly after then and moved across to the states with that company. It was just a few of us over here, mostly British, mostly in our mid to late twenties. We didn't really have an idea of what we were doing. We just had these charming accents that people believed everything we said, or so we thought. That was an incredible experience. I was there for close to four years. It went from just a few of us at the very beginning and no revenue to several hundred people a few years later, and making a lot of money. It was an incredible experience going through that.

James McKinney: So let's walk through that time with Vungle, because I think that is really your first. Granted, Nuance was a startup, but Vungle was your first experience from really early days to and I don't know what Vungle's exit was. I don't know if it closed down, if they were purchased, I don't know what their-

Chris Brownridge: They were bought just a month or so ago by a PE firm in New York.

James McKinney: Oh, awesome. So that was your first time really going through that, the full startup experience. Not as a founder, but as an early employee. But the first question, how did you come across? How did you get connected with the Vungle guys?

Chris Brownridge: You know, I actually can't remember that very well. I think I reached out to them based upon a Mashable series that they ran. It was a behind the startup series that followed the two founders. The hook there was that there were two young Brits that had come across to the promise land of San Francisco to forge and grow this startup. That's really what that hook of the Mashable was. They had this whole series there and I remember reaching… I think I reached out on the back of that. It went from there and connected because they're British as well. We met and I came aboard pretty quickly after that point.

James McKinney: Awesome. I love that. So you get to San Francisco, you connect with Vungle. It's early days, no revenue, they have funding. That is a high stress environment. Let me rephrase that. In a disciplined startup, that is a high stress environment. There are lots of startups that are just blow it all away, it just becomes party town but I assume because of where Vungle ended up, they're very disciplined approach in how they handle their funding and their product development. What was your role in Vungle and what was that environment experience like for you?

Chris Brownridge: I took a few different roles actually. It morphed over time. Again in any kind of situation like that, any startup that early, you're kind of taking a lot of different roles. So I started for the first six months in San Francisco, just a very broad BD role. It was kind of like playing every single role I could.

James McKinney: What was Vungle's product? Because you just said you were in business development, so what was Vungle's product?

Chris Brownridge: Yeah. They were an in app advertising network, so they actually created the mechanism to deliver video into apps and games. So if you're playing Angry Birds from Rovio and you need to earn extra coins, you can watch a video to earn five coins. They provide the technology behind that. So I started off in kind of BD in very broad strokes role. I then moved to New York for six months to open the office in New York, at least explore opening an office. We didn't actually end up opening it at that point. Went over there, explored that, had a great six months in New York. Then came back to San Francisco and kicked on from there. I actually led the advertiser sales team. So we had two sales teams. One sales team was selling to advertisers, mostly games, and the other sales team was selling to publishers, those that would integrate the technology. I led the advertiser side globally. Built a pretty big team underneath that across six different offices. That also encapsulated the creative team which fed under me as well. Then I moved to lead the global sales ops organization as we grew. We were a little late to the game doing the business operations, revenue operations side of things and moved into that role after a couple of years.

James McKinney: So it sounds like your time there was one an amazing experience and diverse for you to see various areas of a growing startup, from early days all the way up to a probably few hundred employees at some point in time.

Chris Brownridge: Mm-hmm, yep.

James McKinney: Revenue it sounds like, so you're probably doing well in revenue. So you got to see a lot of sides of the startup. Why did you leave?

James McKinney: I hope you are loving this episode of The Startup Story. Before we continue on with our episode, I wanted to let you know about some exciting Startup Story news. We are preparing to launch our very own YouTube channel. Yes, The Startup Story will be expanding our platform to YouTube. Now, as you can tell, listener experience is critical for me for the podcast, so viewer experience is obviously going to be critical for me for the new channel. I was not about to just record this from my office. I needed to make sure I had some great looking furniture and a great looking set overall. Yep, furniture shopping is terrible. Over eager sales people, poor quality pieces, and terrible customer service. So in my search, I discovered Article.com. I was able to get everything online, on my own, no showrooms, no sales people, and incredible pricing because there are no retail markups.

Look, I'm bootstrapping The Startup Story. I don't have investment capital for this, I have to be frugal. Article.com was an amazing resource and I cannot wait to announce when the channel is live so you can see what I've been working on. But look. You know I'm all about entrepreneurs helping other entrepreneurs, so when I reached out to Article they gladly put together an offer for all The Startup Story listeners. It's an amazing discount, too. If you visit Article.com/startupstory, you can get $50 off your first purchase of $100 or more. Once you visit Article.com/startupstory, the discount will automatically be applied at checkout. Like always, in case you can't remember the URL of Article.com/startupstory, we will include a link in our show notes. I hope this hookup helps you in a huge way. All right, enough with the update. Let's jump back into our episode.

James McKinney: So you got to see a lot of sides of the startup. Why did you leave?

Chris Brownridge: A couple of reasons. My wife and I, who I met in San Francisco, we had decided that we didn't want to stay in the Bay area. Mostly from an acquiring property perspective. It's obviously very expensive. Then also wanted to start a family and we felt like San Francisco wasn't a place that we wanted to do that. On the other side of it, I'd been at Vungle nearly four years and it's an interesting journey when you're in your mid to late twenties, and you're learning a lot going through that process. I was in a leadership role at the company. But also we were a company doing a couple hundred million dollars a year and had to grow into several hundred employees across the world.

I was kind of feeling my way through things to try and know what to do, if that makes sense. I hadn't got that experience before. I think I came to the realization that there's absolutely people out there that had that experience before, and had taken companies from series A to B, and beyond, from tens of millions to hundreds of millions, had the experience doing that. Quite honestly, there are probably better people out there for that job. So I was fully aware of that and communicated our intentions a long way before leaving, helped hire my replacement, and then trained that individual as well who had that experience. So I was happy to kind of play that role and transition through that process. Yeah, that was kind of the main drivers behind it.

James McKinney: So where did you end up after you left San Francisco?

Chris Brownridge: We moved up to Seattle, ironically. We'd only visited Seattle in the summers before that, so it was always 80 degrees and sunny. I was like, "Wow, this place is incredible." Little did I know that eight months of the year, it is the northern isles of Scotland climate wise, and is very dark and dreary. That aside is rich coming from a Brit, so I really shouldn't complain about that. My wife went to UW up here and we had a lot of friends, so we visited a lot. It's a great place to be. I think has a good mix of technology, but also family basis here, and we very much enjoy being here so moved up at the end of 2015, and have been here ever since.

James McKinney: So 2015, four years ago. What was your, as you land in an area obviously as a business person, it's about trying to survey the land, see who the connections are, what opportunities there might be. What was your first step as you landed in Seattle?

Chris Brownridge: Well I was kind of splitting my time between helping Vungle still. I stayed on for several months after moving up here, and then just getting the lay of the land trying to feel my way around things. I was new to the city. I didn't have many contacts, many friends here either. So I really spent time just trying to meet as many people as possible. Actually, was exploring VR first and fascinated by it. Thought, it was kind of in the period where VR was really hot, so much money plowed into it. At the time, I thought well could I build a Vungle type thing for VR, seeing the success rate. I thought that would be a great opportunity. I think there's a few companies that tried it and haven't, as far as I'm aware, got very far because of VR penetration not being to where people thought it would be. But I pulled myself back from VR ultimately and decided not to go down that route, which I'm I guess pretty happy about.

James McKinney: I know I would be. I think VR is going to always be a very tough sell, outside of enterprise. Enterprise I can see so much potential, but consumer side, so complicated.

Chris Brownridge: It's so interesting. The technology is great. I was fascinated by it. I thought it was so cool but the consumer penetration just isn't there, especially if you try and build an apps product which is what I was considering. So decided against that. At that point, I actually went back to the UK for Christmas and was having a beer over Christmas with an ex colleague of mine from Vungle. We just sat down and it feels like probably eight beers in, we're slurring our words, different ideas.

James McKinney: The best ideas happen after six.

Chris Brownridge: And then at that point, we decided to try something out, experiment. So I came back to Seattle and actually started the process behind the company GawkBox, which I ended up starting, just running some experiments for that company.

James McKinney: And GawkBox is the reason we got connected. I'm going to do a bit of foreshadowing here for the listeners. The reason we got connected is I believe it was on Medium that you had posted an article speaking about your journey through shutting down GawkBox. Again, I'm always empathetic towards those stories because of my own personal journey, and I always want to talk to people that have been down that road because I'm 10 years out of that road. So there's so much hope that I have outside of that chapter. So I love connecting with people that are in that season.

So it was that article that you posted I thought was just so incredibly transparent, I thought okay, I've got to have you on The Startup Story because that's exactly what The Startup Story is about, to kind of unpack that journey. So when you came back and started testing this theory of GawkBox, and if you could first unpack what GawkBox was so that those listening can have a context for what it was. Then want to kind of talk through your early stage testing. Because you did, one you actually tested unlike your subscription condom business.

Chris Brownridge: Somewhat further.

James McKinney: So we can talk about that as well, but what is GawkBox, and let's talk about the early days.

Chris Brownridge: GawkBox was a platform where viewers could donate to their favorite YouTubers or favorite streamer by playing games, so for free ultimately. The kind of premise behind it and the reason I went into it was the tipping eco system, the donation eco system in streaming and content creation on YouTube is actually significant. Several hundred million dollars a year, but it's all through cash based transactions. So our hypothesis was that by providing the viewers a free way to donate money to their favorite streamer, a lot of people would do it. The way we were going to do that was by saying you could play Angry Birds, or you could play Clash of Clans, or you could play Candy Crush. So it's free to play. As soon as you play that game, you'll donate to the streamer.

James McKinney: So let me make sure I understand this. So you mentioned YouTube. I'm not familiar with the YouTube tipping mechanism, but Patreon I am familiar with. So on Patreon, if there's someone generating content that I find valuable, I want to support them, I can do a once a month dollar tip or whatever the tip may be. You wanted to create a middle system that would allow me to do something that costs me nothing, but because there was an advertiser paying for it, you then would tip based on my activity.

Chris Brownridge: Bingo. So if you imagine the Patreon model that you just laid out, instead of someone paying a dollar a month, because not everybody wants to put their credit card details in, if I played Angry Birds once this month or I played Clash of Clans once next month, that would constituted a dollar as well.

James McKinney: At first glance, I don't understand why this wasn't huge. This sounds, and I'm sure in your mind you're like, "Thanks James, because I believed the same thing."

Chris Brownridge: I hear that a lot from people, actually.

James McKinney: But obviously for our listeners, there's something in the execution, the consumer adoption, the go to market strategy. There's something in there that now looking back you think, okay, here's what I think might have been some missteps. But let's journey down this road. So you come back from Christmas after having this idea with your buddy and you start testing some theories. What was it you were testing? So we talk about MVPs and we talk about just how we can test whether or not there's a market for this. There's lots of ways to do it, but how did you test?

Chris Brownridge: Our testing row was actually fairly long. We spent a significant amount of time doing it, reason being that we had really strong experience on the ad side of things from Vungle. We knew how the ads ecosystem worked really, really well. We did not understand the content ecosystem that well. Given content creators and streamers were the center point of this working, we had to know that ecosystem much better than we did.

So we actually spent the best part of a year running an agency, just deploying campaigns to YouTubers and Twitch streamers, which would look like this. We would represent Rovio who make Angry Birds, and we'd approach a YouTuber and ask them to create a video about Angry Birds, and we would broker that deal just so we could talk to as many YouTubers as possible, talk to as many Twitch streamers as possible, and understand more about some of the challenges they were facing. So we did that for a year. It was a fairly long period to kind of go through that, and understand where we felt like we could swap something in.

What we identified is that content creators don't have a steady source of income in a lot of cases. The real big guys do, but underneath that it is a grind. It's pretty difficult. I used to quote the same stat when I was raising money and it was that more than 99% of content creators, streamers actually, early less than $10,000 last year, and there's seven million streamers in the world. There's a lot of people not earning enough money to even live properly. The majority of those are in the US. So that was the problem we were attacking.

We built a solution that allowed people to do that dynamically. We created each streamer a page on our platform where they could direct their viewers to. Their viewers could pick and choose what tip opportunities they wanted to take. Effectively what games they wanted to play to donate to their favorite streamer. That whole process actually took us probably 12 to 15 months overall, because we were taking our time with learning about the ecosystem. We didn't know it very well on the creator side of things, so we needed to get into that as deeply as we possibly could.

James McKinney: And I hope the listeners are paying attention to this exact test that you ran through, Chris. Because I hear all the time when it comes to startups, when it comes to, "Oh yeah, we tested the theory, we tested the model," and I hear what the test was. It's like that didn't test the core of anything. You were able to combine your tests with market research in an area you didn't know anything about with content creation. I think you did a brilliant job in that. Just hearing this bit, though, were content creators hesitant to direct them to a different platform when they're already getting visibility on YouTube?

Chris Brownridge: Less so on YouTube, a bit more so on Twitch where the environment is life.

James McKinney: Got it.

Chris Brownridge: So obviously on YouTube, you can pause the content and come back to it at a later time. On Twitch or Mixer, or any live broadcast on YouTube for that matter, it's a little more difficult. You miss out on that content when you're away from the platform. So I think that is one of the many reasons that we encounter some challenges around product retention as you went on. But when we launched, a very basic MVP early 2017, it flew off the shelves. It went and grew super fast. It allowed us to, it went from zero to $100 grand a month revenue in just a couple months, which is incredible. It made us think of the Vungle days, because that's really what happened to Vungle. It way beyond that at that point, but we at that point may have got a little carried away.

We also captured that momentum to go and raise money pretty fast. We could raise money pretty fast because of that momentum we had and the revenue we were generating. But it glossed over some of the product challenges we were having in particular around retention. Ultimately, there are a couple of key challenges that really had the stop the product from going as far as it should, and realizing the potential that you thought it had a little earlier on. I think those two things are the viewer wasn't getting anything back for their donation, which they were taking a lot of time to play a game to send a donation to a content creator, but they were getting and in many cases not a whole lot back for it if anything. They might get a shout out on stream or a shout out on video, but that was seldom the case.

So the viewer was kind of doing things but not getting anything back for it. So the old adage of make something your users want to pay for, they absolutely need or want, it didn't really ring true because they weren't getting anything back and we needed the viewers to actually do this for it to work. Then we also had a problem with the prices the advertisers were paying us. They started off paying us in the order of $5 per install and we would share that with the content creator. So if you imagine you wanted to donate to me and you downloaded Angry Birds, just by downloading it would trigger a $2.50 donation to me, as an example. What that tended to create was a user that didn't want to stick around and play the game because they'd already triggered the donation, it was incentivized, and they decided to disappear which caused a challenge with the advertiser who then said, "We're going to drop our prices significantly." So that $5 went down to $0.25 and at that point, the motivation for the content creator went away because their earnings disappeared.

James McKinney: Oh my goodness. There's a few things I want to unpack in that. One, you talk about the momentum you had early days and how you leveraged that for fundraising. Obviously, fundraising is critical. You had to go out for it. But one of the things that I've really heard from founders before is the money will sometimes mask the problems and the challenges. Did you experience that to be true for you?

Chris Brownridge: I probably position it as rather than mask the problems, it changes how you think about your business. It changes how you think about spending. It changes how you think about strategy. So some examples being we raised money really off an ecosystem of live streaming being so big, and there was a lot of momentum behind it, a lot of capital flowing into live streaming, which I actually think made us ignore might not be the right word, but just miss the positive metrics we saw off recorded content on YouTube. So we made significantly more money off of YouTube recorded content than we ever did off live content on Twitch. But yet we still continued focusing on the live streaming aspect of it. I think partly because we'd raised money off lives streaming and it was hot, and we didn't want to just change what we were about. So I think it to some extent influenced that.

I also think after we raised money, we had $3.9 million in the bank or so, so of course we were excited. Just raised the money, need to go spend it. And you are encouraged to spend it. But we really overinvested too quickly in sales and marketing before we had a product that worked and was proven to work from a retention perspective. We had poor retention. We saw that, we knew that. We knew but we still invested significantly in sales and marketing, to the extent I think we spent the same on sales and marketing as we did on engineering just three months after raising the money.

James McKinney: Wow. Then did you do that thinking that you could ad spend your way through retention? What was your thought process in that decision, knowing that you had this retention problem, but yet you're just going to keep pouring money into marketing. What was the thought process?

Chris Brownridge: I think partly it was naivete, looking back on it. Next time I won't do that. I think we probably thought we could fill the bucket up quick enough to mitigate the amount we were losing. And we didn't have a clear enough picture of the exact retention. We just knew we had an issue. I couldn't tell you what the percentages were back then outside of just month one because it was too early. We just didn't know. So I think we thought right, if we can sign up enough content creators, we can mitigate this issue and we'll solve it later is the thinking behind it. Next time around, I think I would approach that differently, focus on keeping it tight, investing in product, and experiments to make sure you're validating that the solution you've built is the right one and people do ultimately need it. That was something we didn't do.

James McKinney: This is so rich, Chris. I'm sure part of it is painful for you to be retelling, but for the listeners right now, I hope you're taking copious notes and if you are not, because you're probably driving, that's when most podcasts are listened to. But I hope when you get back to a stationary place that you just kind of walk through these last 15 minutes again, just to hear some of the learnings Chris had in bringing this to market. So to continue on in the journey, you came back in 2015 for research. So 2016 is when you were done with your research.

Chris Brownridge: No, fast forward a year. 2016 we did research, 2017 we launched the product.

James McKinney: Got it, 2017 launched the product. So end of 2017 or mid 2017 is when you started your fundraising. So what happened in 2018 that led to what you saw the horizon being?

Chris Brownridge: We tried a lot of different things to get it to work. We pushed out multiple different, I say different products. We did try different experiments. They just weren't the right ones to make it work. We did that for a good year and a half after fundraising. I could happily go into some of those experiments.

James McKinney: if you wouldn't mind, that would be great. The reason I ask that, Chris, is again not to just keep grinding through. Ultimately we know what happens, but as we now can look back I think part of that learning process is okay, these experiments were great but what were we fixing, what weren't we fixing.

Chris Brownridge: Yes, and I think that's the key challenge. The approach we took to building products and experimenting with products was not the right approach. There's multiple things we tested. I'll call out a couple different ones. We observed a trend in the Far East with live streaming apps such as BIGO and I think We Now was one. I've might have got that completely wrong. BIGO's definitely one where people were buying stickers to go on top of the live broadcast, and we were fascinated by it, and we thought, "This is something surely will work over here."

So we built something similar on top of Twitch, where people could trigger, buy a sticker by what they've earned on our platform to donate to the content creator. We figured that by expressing themselves through the medium of stickers, for everyone to see, we though everyone will do this, they'll love it. It turned out it didn't really move the needle. Clearly I think the user behavior over in the west is obviously different to the Far East for those apps. I know there's other folks that have tried the stickers approach over here as well on Twitch, on Mixer and Microsoft streaming platform. I think it's just not as successful as it is in China and other countries in the Far East.

James McKinney: Was GawkBox localized or was it the same platform here in the states as it was in your international locations?

Chris Brownridge: It was the same platform.

James McKinney: The exact same experience?

Chris Brownridge: Exact same experience apart from the campaigns. The advertisers, the games you could play would have been different, so that was localized. So we tried that. We also then tried to hook in a bit more to the Twitch ecosystem and we tried to create extra rewards for the viewer. So we started down this pathway of understanding that the viewer needed to get something back for it, but the only thing we really got around to testing was random cash prizing and giving out Twitch subscriptions to people, which ultimately did not create enough of an incentive for the viewers to keep using the product. I don't think it was exciting enough. Those are kind of the two main tests we run.

We actually came to a conclusion towards the end of 2018 that the pathway we had been going down for the last 18 months at that point was one that we didn't feel like was going to work, and we needed to make a change, a pivot per se, to what we were doing. So at that point, we went back to the drawing board in a lot of respects. We spent a lot of time reconnecting with customers, which I think we'd gotten away from before, and personally in particular I think as CEO I had not spent enough time connecting with customers prior to that. I did great at the beginning and then lost my way, and de-prioritized that over other things which I think is a mistake. So go back to that. Started connecting with customers again. Then built a new product at the start of 2019 which was kind of our last hurrah to attempt to get things going and allow to raise another round.

That product was a competitive gaming platform. So it's still in the same space, still looking at that same customers, still looking at the streaming world. Our hypothesis there was that viewers would join a streamers team to play against other streamers players stream in a daily streaming competition. We launched tournaments every day with prizes, playing a different game every single day. It actually fixed our retention. Our retention was great on the back of that, we just couldn't scale it. We couldn't scale it enough. When it came to raise money, I went out. Started going out March of this year. I was having a lot of challenging conversations with investors for various reasons, predominately we'd already raised $4.4 million and had a pre-seed stage product so that felt a little funny to people, the juxtaposition was a lot.

Then streaming has gone a little cold was what I heard as well. People were a little worried about it. There's a lot of money being plowed into the streaming ecosystem and E-sports as a whole, which is what we were bucketed as, but not a lot of value created out of the other side. That's something that investors are more and more becoming wise to, and is a concern for people.

James McKinney: So as you have these challenges in fundraising, what were some of those internal conversations and how did you get there mentally and emotionally to know what needed to be done?

Chris Brownridge: Internally, we'd always been transparent with everybody. It was something that was very important to me and my two cofounders. It's one of our core values. We committed to being transparent to the entire team throughout the entire process. So we told… they always knew when our cash was out, and as that changed we kept them updated. We always told them the reasons behind some of the decisions we'd made. Obviously, we had to lay people off at different points through the process. Everybody understood because we were transparent about that and we were totally transparent going through the entire process from fundraising to having difficulties there, to ultimately trying to sell the company which made a valiant effort I would say on that front. Ultimately didn't make that happen. They were totally aware of what was going on and I think that was the right thing to do.

It obviously makes it challenging from a cultural perspective in some ways, because people are worried. If you're concerned that at the end of June you're going to be out of a job and not have anything moving forward, your health insurance gone because the company won't be around, it's obviously worrying for people. It was difficult to motivate to continue to really execute on work I would say, but I wouldn't have changed that. I think the most important thing is doing right by the team and ensuring they're aware, because it's so important for people. If you're surprised from one day to the next that your jobs gone, the company's shutting down, I personally think that's the wrong thing to do and something I couldn't do.

James McKinney: And I love your transparency with the team. I'm sure it was hard for them and probably a little bit of anxiety on the employee side, but I think it was the right thing to do. Let's talk about the decision point when you knew this was it. Was it just cash? Was it based on cash in the bank? Or was it you and your cofounder said, "This ride is done."

Chris Brownridge: I think there are actually a couple different points through the process. I had mentally prepared myself for it happening much earlier in the year because of the position we found ourselves in. so I was already somewhat prepared alongside the cofounders, and to that point the team as well. But when it came down to if I think about the final decision when the actual proverbial nail was stuck in the coffin, that was July 3rd on a board meeting at 10 pm that I had after the last lead for a company sailed, that was legitimate and could have kept the team round and together, and acquired the company and team had gone. That was late on the 3rd of July, and a very late evening board meeting which is kind of a somber one when the ultimate curtain call was made. We'd already extended some of the team on payroll past the point where I was originally comfortable, given what we had in the bank, by a few days to get to a decision from one of the companies we were talking to. Unfortunately, that decision didn't pan out the way we wanted it to so we had to make that call that night and unfortunately, the following day payroll was cutoff for everybody.

James McKinney: Oh man. As we're walking through this journey, I can feel similar emotions to what I felt from past experiences of my own journey. I can feel the weight. I can feel the sorrow. And for any of my listeners who have lost a business, you understand the grieving process that is part of that. But one of the things I haven't asked about in this journey that I really only ask because it was common for my journey as well as other founders who are married, and that is the toll it takes on the spouse. What was that journey, especially towards the end? What was that journey like and those conversations like for you with your wife?

Chris Brownridge: Well, I'm lucky to have an incredibly supportive wife and wider family, actually, that are always there for me, always there to be a sounding board and to listen, console you when you're upset because obviously you're going through that process, there are times you're in tears because various emotions are going through your mind. Am I a failure, what am I going to do next, things like that. I am incredibly grateful to have a wife and family that are so supportive, but I'm also cognizant of the toll it takes on those, in particular your spouse.

I wasn't around and as present through that process as I would normally like to be. I think I did a pretty good job of being physically present, but I think there's two different ways of being present. You can be physically present, but emotionally all over the place. I would be so often checking my phone instead of spending time with my nearly two year old son. Instead of talking to my wife, I'd be worried about emails or things like that. In particular, going through that is difficult decision, there were times when I just wasn't really there and actually went away with my parents and my wife and son at the end of May, and I had to work through that holiday, which is regretful in a lot of ways because I don't get to see my parents very often. My son, their grandson, doesn't see them very often. To have to do that through that holiday is not something I'm particularly proud of.

It's difficult for everyone around you. I tell you, I've actually in the past couple of months since we made that decision on July 3rd and had a bit of closure behind it, I've really enjoyed having a bit more freedom to dedicate to my wife and son, and really get some quality time with him. Because it's time that you won't get back, and that's really important.

James McKinney: Oh man, that is awesome. Again Chris, I ask that question just because of my own journey. As our time together comes to an end and before I get to my two questions that I always ask, I have one additional question for you. I think it's because you have the wisdom of perspective because of what you've gone through in your journey. You are an entrepreneur, it's in your DNA. I know there's going to be a startup in your future at some point in time, and you've probably already had conversations with a few people around a few ideas. It's the way-

Chris Brownridge: I'm going to be pivoting to a monthly condom subscription business actually. Watch out.

James McKinney: I love it. That's awesome. So as you look back, and again I know it's still somewhat fresh but sometimes when it's fresh we can see most clear, when you look back on your journey through GawkBox, what are some of the things that without fail you are going to do differently in your next startup, regardless of whatever industry it is? What have you learned that you just know without a doubt this is going to be done differently?

Chris Brownridge: I think I've got a few that I'd rally off. Number one, as a founding team or a CEO, I think you absolutely need to be close to your customer at all times. I lost that and I'm pretty sure a lot of CEOs go through these. You're like oh, I've got the accounting to do, I've got legal to worry about, I have all this other crap that you have on your plate. But ultimately, if you're not building a product and understanding the customers pain that you build a product to solve that pain, the company's not going to be around for you to do any of that legal stuff or accounting work, even if you for some reason enjoy it.

So I think next time I'm going to get as close to the customer as possible and stay close throughout the journey. I actually talked to an old friend of mine at lunch time today, who I used to work with at Google 10 years ago. He reached out on the back of that article and talked to me. 10 years. And he said that the CEO of his company did something really cool, and they're a bigger company now, but he still talks to one user every week for their app, and that's a consumer app as well, so he does that. I think that's great, really cool. So I would absolutely do that, talk to customers.

Number two based upon that, build a product that the customers need. It's got to solve an ongoing pain, and ultimately I'll want to build a product that people want to pay me for. We didn't build that this time. That wasn't really that thing there for the viewers to keep using the product. They didn't need it.

Third, distribution is really important. I actually quoted Justin Kan, the guy who started Twitch. He tweeted this last year, that second time founders obsess over distribution rather than product. You can have the best product in the world, but if you haven't got your distribution sorted you're not going to get it to where you need to get it to. I think I next time around will develop a much deeper understanding of how many customers I need, how to get to make that successful, and I wasn't meticulous enough about that this time. And didn't keep on top of that, and make sure we built an economic model that was profitable. Our LTV was just terrible compared to our customer acquisition cost. I think it was .14, so useless. So building a product that people will pay for, that can deliver a lifetime value above your customer acquisition cost.

Finally, I think validate that people need that product before you invest in growth. I know people might at some point disagree with that, but for me and going through the experience I've just been through, it's going to be important next time around to ensure that I've got the signals there that the product is something people need and will pay for, that I can then invest in the growth side of things.

Then one final one that I forgot I think is less connected to the corporate learnings, but more around how you judge your own personal success. Coming out of this experience initially I was obviously asking myself those questions, which I think you probably have done as well, some of the listeners have done if they've been through something similar. You wonder if you're a failure. You wonder if, am I ever cut out to do this again or cut out for it originally, and you've let people down. So I thought about it. But I think I was doing that because I was judging it based upon financial success rather than the personal learnings I had going through that process and through the past three years of actually starting and growing the company, and then ultimately shutting it down. It is a lot of learnings to come out of that, and that is the most important thing, and where I'm going to be judging my success moving forward. That's not to discount the importance of financial returns for people. Of course people want that and I'm not going to discount that, but from a personal perspective I think if you look at every project that you attack with a goal in mind to learn as much as possible, if that's your yardstick for success then you'll be successful.

James McKinney: Oh man, I hope all the listeners are writing this down, because this is better than any MBA. Anything you want to get after, you are hearing exactly what things to be considerate of now as you start your adventure. I know, Chris, you're going to be considering those. But now, I feel like we can keep going but unfortunately we can't. Our time is coming to an end, and there's two questions I ask every founder.

The reason I ask these questions, the first one is about gratitude. I ask it because I believe that if we forget all the people that poured into us throughout our journey, we begin to falsely believe that we did it ourselves and we become isolated and ultimately that leads to our failure. So now, having the perspective that you have, who do you look back to with such immense gratitude for all the contributions they made throughout your journey?

Chris Brownridge: Wow. This could turn into an Oscar speech, so I probably won't go through everybody.

James McKinney: This is the one question I do not trim. I trim other points of content, but I will not trim this one.

Chris Brownridge: Well, I think I was lucky to be brought up in a loving family with parents that supported me, with a brother that's a really good friend. And that is kind of the initial starting point that a lot of people don't have in life. It's really important to be grateful for that, like the situation that occurred that allowed me to grow up in a loving family. I wouldn't be where I am today if I didn't have that. Or I'd be potentially significantly different. So gratitude for that. For the continued support they gave me over my formative years and beyond still today. As I mentioned at the beginning and we talked about, my parents are both entrepreneurs and they've been through a lot of difficult times with their company. Having that exposure to that has been really important for me, and ultimately inspiration which I don't think I've ever told them directly but if they listen this far in the podcast maybe they'll get to hear that.

Then I think it's important, rather than give a laundry list of names, my wife for the continued support. I think the most important thing is support network around you, because you can't do it on your own. It's impossible to do on your own and you need that support network. You need people around you who are willing to listen and help you find solutions to some of the challenges that you're facing. So to everybody that's been a part of that support network, be it family, friends. There's a lot of friends I count on to call up out of the blue and ask for advice. I very much appreciate all of their time and hope that I can do the same for other people too. I think that's really important and the reason why I wrote that article is to hopefully be of help to others as they go through this journey. I've got friends and other people in my network that are also entrepreneurs and are trying to make things happen, so I want to be there for other people as people have been for me.

James McKinney: that is beautiful. I love all of that. Now to get to our last question. As we've unpacked your journey, we've been speaking to tens of thousands of entrepreneurs or want-repreneurs. But right now, I want to take these next few minutes for really a virtual coffee talk. It's just you as the mentor, and a mentee. Those listener personas, I have entrepreneurs that are in the mix right now and just frustrated at the lack of traction. I have want- repreneurs that have a 9 to 5 and a book full of dreams and ideas, but maybe it's because they're married with a mortgage and kids, and some narrative in their life that they think it's just too late for them, or maybe they're even 60 and they think I'm not an entrepreneur, that season has gone. Or maybe they're the defeated entrepreneur, the one who has had to close up shop and figure out what next is. Or maybe they've been repeatedly defeated and just about to call it quits completely. Whatever persona you want to speak to because of what is inside of you right now, this is just a coffee talk with you and that one person. What do you say to that person?

Chris Brownridge: I think there's a few different areas. I maybe starting by trying to, from all the personas you mentioned, every single one of them will need to have… you'll need to keep going, because there's so many challenges at whatever stage you're at. If you're a want-repreneur in a 9 to 5 and just wants to make the leap, you just need to just do it. Just get off your chair and make it happen. Nowadays, there are so many different ways to test things out that don't necessarily require you to quit your job to start something and take that risk straight away.

More and more, I read startup studios are coming up and they just have this model behind validating or invalidating ideas, which is really compelling. I think there could be questions around how in some cases, it might not be as accurate a signal as you want, but they've done a really good job of it. Pioneer Square Labs is a local based one in Seattle. They churn out so many different things and run so many different experiments and ideas in this model they've built. I think there's ways to replicate that for individual want- repreneurs in the 9 to 5 that aren't going to cost much money, and aren't a huge risk. My advice there would be just make it happen. There's no time like the present. If anyone wants to talk about that, I'm happy to be a sounding board for things.

But more broadly, I think keep going. There's always going to be challenges to overcome. Focus on what you're learning through the process, and don't lose sight of that. Going through some of those challenges personally, I sometimes lost sight of what I was learning through that and if I had kept that in mind, I think it would have helped pull me through a little bit more. If you're going through tough things like every entrepreneur, if you start building the company and you hire people, you will have to let people go at some point and they're horrible discussions to have, horrible decisions to make. But there's a lot of learning that goes behind those processes if you're doing it for the first time and beyond, like how you deal with that. I think examples like that focus on the learning, focus on what you're drawing out of it personally, and you'll take it on and build on that as you move forward I think is the number one thing I would say to anybody over coffee.

James McKinney: I am not going to lie to you. This episode was a heavy one for me. Having this conversation with him so soon after shutting down his company took me back in my own journey. His reflection on the importance of his support network and the support of his wife reminded me about the strength of my own network, and the strength my wife gave to me when I lost my business. When you're an employee, it is easy to separate business and personal. But when you're an entrepreneur, business is personal. Entrepreneurship is an absolute rollercoaster and while the ride may vary between each of us, we are all on a ride that will have some incredibly high moments and some very dark lows. This is just real talk.

Yet you just don't hear these stories being shared and that's why I started The Startup Story. My hope in sharing about the real side of entrepreneurship is so that you are better equipped as you pursue building your business. In doing so, you're going to hit moments of incredible challenge and oftentimes, our solution is to go heads down on those challenges and try to figure them out ourselves. It is in those moments, more than ever, that you need to have a network of people you can reach out to and get input from. In the coming months, I will be formalizing a mastermind of sorts where you, the listener, can actively engage with other entrepreneurs and the founders we've featured, and get some real tactical and practical input into your specific challenges. Stay tuned for more and stay connected more than ever.

I hope you have found some real value in Chris' Startup Story episode. If you've been around The Startup Story for any length of time, then you know how much emphasis I put on the idea that entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs. So if you have found any value in Chris' startup story, then go follow him on LinkedIn and let him know that you have. You heard from him in his episode, he wants to connect with you so make sure to also visit PastelFrog.com to send him a direct note. Yes, you heard that correctly, PastelFrog.com. Entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs, so let's make sure to show up for Chris Brownridge in a major way and go connect with him on LinkedIn as well as at PastelFrog.com. In fact, we'll include his profile and a link to his website in our show notes for easy access.

And now for my personal ask. The Startup Story community has been so incredible about sharing our podcast with others, but we have more stories to tell and more people to reach. We too are a startup and word of mouth is everything, so please follow us on Facebook and Instagram @TheStartupStory or on Twitter @StartupStory_. If you're on LinkedIn, please search for The Startup Story and follow our company page. LinkedIn is a really powerful way to raise awareness of the show. But the most impactful way you can help us grow our audience is to leave a review on Apple Podcast. Or if you listen to the show via Spotify, then please simply share the podcast directly from your Spotify app or wherever you listen to the show.

These simple actions can make a huge impact in getting these amazing founder stories out to the masses. And please make sure to tag or mention The Startup Story when you do share so that we can connect with you and say thank you directly. I'm so incredibly appreciative of the fact that you listen to the show each and every week, and I look forward to sharing these amazing stories with you every Tuesday with hopes of encouraging and inspiring you to start your story.

If you like this podcast and are thinking of creating your own, consider talking to my producer Danny Ozment. He helps thought leaders, influencers, executives, and authors create, launch, and produce podcasts that grow their business and make a real impact in this world. You can contact him today at emeraldcitypro.com/startupstory.

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October 22 2019
Chris Brownridge, founder of GawkBox

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