This interview series features inspiring female entrepreneurs who have launched and run successful businesses. Through our peers’ experiences, we can learn practical lessons and insights to empower us on our entrepreneurial paths. Crucially, storytelling de-risks entrepreneurship so we believe it is an essential pillar in closing the opportunity gap for female founders.
Cynthia Huang on…
- Growth hacking when you’re resource starved
- Persistence in sales follow-up – don’t give up until you’ve tried 4-5 times
- Understanding Bitcoin and cryptocurrency trading
Hello Cynthia! Tell us a bit about you.
Hi all! I’m Cynthia and I’m the co-founder and CEO of Altcoin Fantasy as well as Airhosts Forum. I’m a digital nomad and I live in an RV with my husband (also my co-founder) and our two pups. We travel all around North America in our RV full time and we travel around the world when we’re not in our RV.
And tell us about your business, Altcoin Fantasy.
Altcoin Fantasy is a free, fun and educational app for people looking to learn about Bitcoin and about cryptocurrency trading. We have a cryptocurrency trading simulator where people can practice trading without the risk of using (and losing) real money. We also reward our users with prizes for improving their knowledge through winning daily and weekly fantasy trading competitions.
Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies exploded in 2017. So many people lost money they had invested in cryptocurrencies when the prices dropped sharply in 2018. Seeing that, we felt there was a huge need for people to learn how to properly invest in Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies without the risk of losing their own money in the process. That’s the reason we built Altcoin Fantasy – to make sure people didn’t lose their house because they didn’t know how to invest properly.
What was the moment that everything changed for you? Describe that moment when you decided to fully commit to your idea and the first few steps you took to make it possible.
We built a beta then did user testing to see if people saw value in the idea. We started doing user interviews and when we heard that there were people playing the game for 12 hours each day, we knew that there was something there that we had to continue nurturing.
I was working in corporate innovation while getting this started so that we could fund the project. We had received funding from a government program and decided that this was the time to go all in and haven’t looked back since then. User research/product validation is definitely the best way to get started so you’re not wasting your time building something that no one wants.
What were the initial challenges you came up across and how did you overcome them?
As a startup, one of the biggest issues you come across is how to grow while being incredibly resource-starved. Thankfully we had extensive experience in growth hacking and building up large communities through our other company,
What was the first win that made you feel you were onto something?
When you first start a company, you’ll ask your friends and family for feedback. Most of them will be really great and supportive. But you need to get real feedback from people who don’t care about hurting your feelings. When we started doing user interviews and found out that people were playing 12+ hours a day, we knew that we had to keep building this.
The other crazy thing that came out of this is that we hired our first employee through this process. She was one of our power users and had won many of our fantasy trading contests. We wanted to understand her strategies as well as get suggestions for improving our site and app. After chatting with her, we realized that she would be a great addition to the team. She had so many great ideas and was also growing our community for us through chatting with all our other users and getting them excited to play, even though she wasn’t working for us at that time. We brought her on board as our Community Manager. From that experience, we realized that the best way to hire employees is to find the evangelists of your product and hire them. You can always train for skills but you can’t train for passion.
Did you take the investment route for your business or are you self-funded? Can you share some insights on your decision and the process?
We are completely bootstrapped. In the blockchain and crypto world, many companies raised through ICOs (initial coin offerings) which were essentially just ideas on a piece of paper, with no product. We come from the tech startup world and we wanted to build a product first, find some product-market-fit then think about raising money. We knew that this would force us to be creative and to move fast and keep our burn rate (i.e. spend) low.
We just passed 100K users and are now looking to potentially fundraise. We are revenue generating and we can cover our burn but in order to scale up much more quickly than we have, we need to hire more people. We were a small team of 3 full-time and 1 part-time until January 2019 and only recently hired a 4th person full-time. While we’ve been really scrappy and capital efficient, our growth is currently limited by our resources.
What has been your best investment?
Unequivocally, it has been our team. Knowing that you have a great team who supports you, believes in you and is working on realizing a shared mission is unbeatable. The advantage of being so small is that you can hire people based on
Have you made any mistakes or faux pas? If so, can you share with us?
Gosh, where do I even begin? As a startup founder or entrepreneur, you’re learning as you go. You’re doing things that you’ve never done before, such as accounting, financial projections, business development, sales, contracts, press releases, hiring, firing, etc. You are bound to make mistakes as you go but the important thing is to learn from each situation and to review and understand what you did wrong. I wouldn’t call those mistakes so much as learning because you can’t learn and improve if you don’t try it first. However, it is inevitable that you will have screw ups so be prepared and make sure you are always doing retrospectives so you are always learning and improving.
What’s been the greatest lesson you’ve learnt since starting your own business?
Persistence! I’ve always been reluctant to annoy people so I wouldn’t follow up as often as I should or I’d stop after a few times. However, the average follow-ups required for a sale is 4 or more. Having personally experienced this where it takes 4 to 5 follow-ups for someone to respond, I’ve realized how quickly most of us give up. Whether it’s with follow-ups or life in general, persistence is so important because the only way to fail is to give up.
Have you had any role models or mentors along the way?
I haven’t had any official mentors but I believe that you can learn something from almost everyone that you meet. When I meet new people, especially those who are in startups or have done things I want to do, I try to soak up as much knowledge as possible. Reading articles and books from those who have done it has been a great way for me to learn how to do things I’ve never done before.
What’s your experience of being a woman in the start-up ecosystem and what in your mind needs to change?
It’s been very interesting. There are so many amazing resources that now exist, such as Found & Flourish, to help female entrepreneurs on their journey which is greatly needed and didn’t exist before. That being said, we have a long way to go. Starting from the low numbers of female-led startups, the lack of female-led startups being funded, the low numbers of women in tech overall, especially women in blockchain/crypto, there’s a lot of work to be done.
Despite the growing focus on diversity and inclusion, it still seems like there’s a lack of recognition that there’s a problem. Ignorant comments that we shouldn’t hire women or invest in women just to fulfil diversity ignores the inherent biases in hiring processes and in investment choices. Furthermore, discussions around this topic cannot be constructive when people deny that there are any problems and that women are being too “sensitive”.
Companies, especially leading ones need to reconsider their hiring process. When everyone at the company looks the same, what message does that send to the world? We need more people, not just women, from all experiences and geographies, to act as role models for others. How can we encourage more women and more people from diverse backgrounds to become entrepreneurs and to consider a career in tech if there’s no one that looks like they do in those fields?
What can we do to support your businesses?
We’re looking to connect with investors so if you know any, or are interested in investing, I’d love to chat!
What books, podcasts or resources would you recommend?
Some of my favorite books which have had the most impact on me are:
- Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
- Grit by Angela Duckworth
- Mindset by Carol Dweck
- The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday
- Principles by Ray Dalio
- Geek Girl Rising by Heather Cabot and Samantha Walravens
Podcasts that I love and have helped me change my mindset to a growth mindset:
What advice would you give anyone about to start a business?
One of the toughest parts of being a startup founder is the mental and emotional rollercoaster you go through on a daily (or even hourly!) basis. No matter how often people tell you that startups are tough, you don’t truly understand it until you go through it. Know that it’s going to be really hard and it’s normal to feel doubt, uncertainty and to constantly question yourself and what you’re doing. The important part is to always push through it and keep believing in what you’re doing.
How can readers get in touch with you? (website, social etc.)
If you’d like to learn how to trade cryptocurrencies completely free and with no risk, sign up now at Altcoin Fantasy!
Thank you Cynthia! – Frankie & Lara
About the Author
Lara Sheldrake is an entrepreneur and founder at Found & Flourish. Lara writes and speaks on the topics of entrepreneurship, motherhood and social media for business. She also hosts the Bossing It podcast, aimed at empowering the next generation of female founders in the UK. Send Lara an email. You can also find her on Instagram @Lara_Sheldrake or Twitter @Lara_Sheldrake.
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