Nathan Chan

Foundr Magazine Founder

Photo courtesy of Foundr Magazine.

Since venturing into digital publishing, Nathan Chan’s publication has been a constant source of inspiration to my own. Bootstrapped and launched in 2013, Foundr has become a top-10 ‘Business & Investing Magazine’ on the App Store in an impressive amount of time. In addition to his disruption in digital publishing – an industry where most jump ship – he’s also managed to grow Foundr into one of the most reliable resources for entrepreneurs from all over the world. 

Can you tell us a little bit about how the idea for Foundr formed, and why you decided to finally bring it to life? Foundr formed because I felt like there wasn’t really a business publication out there that I could relate to as an aspiring entrepreneur. I felt that digital magazines would be the next big thing, and believed print was a dying industry to a lot of people. 

Also, selfishly at the time, I was doing work that didn’t really fulfill me, work that I really hated. So naturally, I just fell into launching Foundr. I wanted to do something fun.

When entrepreneurship comes to mind for many people, I think hard work is very often overlooked. Talk to us about your hustle in the earlier days as a young entrepreneur, trying to get Foundr off the ground. I agree, most people don’t understand what it really takes to build and grow a successful business. Most people just don’t want it bad enough.

When I was in my day job, I launched Foundr on the side, and it was serious grind, man. I’d be up by 5 A.M., sometimes worked ’til 3 A.M., and because of my day job, I had to sacrifice a lot of time getting Foundr off the ground. 

Changing my schedule was one thing, but in a way, I had to change my entire life – prioritizing what was important to me and shifting my focus. That’s exactly what I did. It took me 14 or 15 months to build Foundr up and finally be able to quit my day job. It definitely took a long time.

One thing that really fueled my hustle was that I was extraordinarily embarrassed of working on the magazine, speaking to super successful entrepreneurs – millionaires, multi-millionaires, and even billionaires – and while interviewing them, would have to tell them how long I’d been running Foundr. In full honesty, I’d almost always try to avoid telling them I was still working my day job. I was so impatient for the day I quit. But again, that embarrassment really fueled me to push harder.

Another thing man, I think you really are the average of the people you hang around with the most. When I finally did leave my day job, I was only running an okay business – it was pretty much a mom-and-pop lifestyle business when I first left. I was just getting by, paying myself a salary, and I’d still be embarrassed to tell my friends how much I was making and how much I was paying myself. But connecting with so many entrepreneurs and interviewing so many successful people really just inspired me to keep crushing it. Eventually, Foundr turned into a 6-figure business because I was so inspired to push. I started talking more to my mentors and now, I’m running a multi-million dollar business of my own. This is what happens dude, it really is all about surrounding yourself with like-minded people.

“One thing that really fueled my hustle was that I was extraordinarily embarrassed.

Truly inspiring, Nathan. From my understanding, you started Foundr with as little as $2,000? What did you put this into when starting out? It actually took $3,000 to start. It costed me $2,000 for the app and software – to publish the magazine through MagCast. The remaining $1,000 went into App Store fees, design fees, editorial fees and stuff like that.

So it took you roughly a year to quit your day job. Could you tell us a little bit about that timeframe, when the magazine finally gained enough traction for you to pursue it full-time? What finally worked so well? Yeah, it took me a year to build up Foundr and take it on full time. So the timeframe for when the magazine finally gained enough traction actually took a few different turning points. The first was when we interviewed Richard Branson, that was for issue number eight.

Another turning point was when I mastered App Store SEO, and started to generate a lot of organic downloads just from the App Store. I focused only on the magazine app, didn’t use Instagram, didn’t use any social media, didn’t even have a website. 

It was crazy, dude. I was just super, super focused on creating the magazine and grinding it out. 

What worked well most though was our consistency. We are a monthly publication, so we published in the middle of every month, and still produce at the same time to this day. The more magazine issues you produce, the more people will trust to subscribe when they’re in the store. When people open a store and see 40+ back issues published, they know we’re a legit magazine and trust that a new issue will be delivered to them every month.

The number of founders jumping ship in this industry far outweigh the number of people willing to persist through the work it takes for a magazine to take off, so it’s very exciting to see you excel with Foundr. How well are you doing with subscribers in the app? I completely agree, more people do quit in this industry than they persist. We are doing quite well in subscriptions. I’m not very comfortable when it comes to sharing specific things like our revenue and breaking that down, but I can tell you that the magazine is only one part of our profits. We are a multi-million dollar business at Foundr, that means we don’t just publish the magazine. We have many assets underneath the Foundr brand. We have Foundr’s club, we have the magazine, we have Instagram domination, which is one of our courses. We’re launching many more courses, and we’re gonna launch a physical book. So we have many different forms of revenue generation. That’s how we’ve grown business, just by exploring and experimenting.

I think most people in the digital publishing industry need to understand that it’s not just a magazine that you publish. You build a platform. You build an ecosystem, and you need to speak with your audience and find out how you can further serve them. So now, we’re going down this big tangent of teaching many different courses and having many different assets under Foundr. We also wanna make sure those assets are evergreen, meaning we produce it once, and it can be sold continuously at scale. So that’s the whole play, man!

“it’s not just a magazine that you publish. You build a platform. You build an ecosystem.

What have been some of the most difficult challenges you’ve faced thus far? Right now, we have a staff of seven full-time team members, and a ton of contractors and external people we work with. So collectively, we’re a team of 15-20 people making Foundr happen. It’s been really difficult for me when it comes to understanding what it takes to be a great leader. 

Also when it comes to managing my time now, because I can’t be a maker anymore, I have to be a manager too.

Being sued in the earlier days for trademark infringement, that was really difficult. 

And you know, just today, we ran a campaign for one of our products, and it’s not doing very well. That’s frustrating, because we have over 200,000 people in our email database. 

Another, is that I know that we can triple the size of our business if we have more products. That’s a massive challenge right now.

I noticed you guys have recently become really engaged and active on Snapchat. Not only that, but you guys are sharing a lot of behind-the-scenes content and strategies of the company. Any particular reason why you’re finally tapping into the Snapchat platform, and are willing to share so much of the strategies behind the brand? Yes, we have been very active on Snapchat and have been sharing a lot. The reason behind that is because we focus on one platform at a time. So for us, we’ve mastered Instagram, mastered podcasting, mastered publishing the magazine, and mastered all of our current platforms to generate leads, generate traffic, and engaging with our audience. The next platform we’re focused on mastering is Snapchat. 

The reason we’re so willing to share our strategies is because we are a startup helping startups. Everything we find out on growth, we share with our audience. It’s our mission to serve, so why would we hold back on transparency?

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