From zero to 100,000 users
How Don built an AI as a non-technical founder, raised ~$1M from VCs, and grew to 100,000 users
Don Bosco is the founder of BHuman, a startup that enables anyone to create AI-powered videos that are indistinguishable from pre-recorded ones. The company is also developing Persona, a tool for creating an AI clone that can be trained with a knowledge base, has memory, and looks scarily good like the real you.
Publicly launched just six months ago, the company has quickly grown to over 100,000 users. In this episode of Founder Secrets, Don discusses how he came up with the idea, validated it with zero funding and no engineering background, their growth strategies from zero to 100,000 users, his obsession with customers, and the lessons learned after raising ~$1M from VCs.
The ‘aha’ moment
Don always knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur. "I've been starting businesses since I was 12," he said. "It's just in my blood." As a result, when he began studying finance at university, he quickly became frustrated with the idea of working in a bank cubicle and decided to drop out. "I had just one month of rent paid left. I needed to make something work in a month.”
Eager to achieve quick results, Don started a lead generation agency that rapidly gained traction. As he began working with more and more clients, he realized how difficult it was to maintain the same level of personalization at scale. He explains, "As the volume increases, every decision maker becomes more and more saturated, making it increasingly difficult to get their attention.”
Don knew that the missing ingredient was the human connection. But how do you build human connections at scale? "I started recording personalized videos one by one," he recalls. "It worked incredibly well, but it wasn't scalable. I tried to work with a team of actors, but it was too expensive." That's when Don realized that he had to scale with technology.
Validating the idea
BHuman is developed by a team of AI engineers and PhDs. At the time, though, it was just Don, with no funding and no technical background. But this didn't stop him. "I posted a job offer on Upwork," explains Don. "I had to talk to a million people before finding the one developer who was a fit.” With his help, Don developed a prototype that could bulk-change the website shown in a video.
Although there was no AI involved, that basic MVP generated outsized returns for his clients. Confident that he was onto something, Don onboarded a few AI engineers to develop the first iteration of BHuman. That first version lacked a front-end, but Don used it to validate the idea by offering a managed service. After onboarding enterprise clients such as Philips, it became clear that BHuman was on a clear path to product-market fit.
The key lesson is that there is no need to spend millions developing a product before speaking to your first customers. By selling the product from day one, you can validate the idea and incorporate user feedback as you build it. As Don puts it, "Imagine you are climbing up a cliff and there's an earthquake. You must always grab onto something and try to lift yourself, even if it's just by an inch.”
Being a non-technical founder
At some point in their journey, every non-technical founder has experienced the frustration of not being able to contribute to product development firsthand. As a non-engineer myself, I often hear that little voice in my head telling me to start programming. On second thought, however, this reasoning is flawed.
"You really don't have to learn how to code," explains Don. "It will take you 10 years, and even if you've been coding since you were 4 years old, you still can't do everything yourself. However, you should still have an understanding of how everything works.”
On another note, while not being technical is by no means a limit to what you can accomplish as a founder, there are still some lessons that you don't want to learn the hard way.
First of all, avoid working with development agencies. They often demand a ridiculous amount of equity. As Don explains, "They don't care about how your system performs two years from now. They care about delivering the project in two weeks so they can get paid.”
Next, before hiring or developing anything, it’s crucial to establish a clear path for building your product. This involves choosing the right programming languages and system design. Seek advice from trusted developers, understand what you are looking for, and only then start building.
Once you do, you need to find the right people. "We have learned this the hard way, after working with literally more than 70 developers," notes Don. "Don't move forward with anyone unless you really feel like they are passionate about engineering and their work, rather than just trying to make money off of you.” According to Don, the secret to finding these people is to look for developers who contribute to the open-source community. "This tells you two things," he explains. "First, they have a really good work ethic. Second, they actually care about building cool new technology.”
Growth strategies from zero to 100,000 users
BHuman is a groundbreaking product that has quickly gained a lot of attention, with hundreds of content creators promoting it organically on YouTube and other social media platforms. However, acquiring the first 100 early adopters required a different strategy.
"To be honest," recalls Don, "I think the market wasn't really ready for it. Even though we were getting incredible results, it was difficult for people to accept and adopt it. At the time, AI was not that popular and people were confused. We had to win over our first early adopters as if we were selling a $5,000 per month product. We did our research, reached out to people, and built a relationship. We were spending $1,000 worth of time to sell a $39/month subscription.”
After grinding their way to their first 100 users, Don adopted another plan to reach the 1,000 milestone. "We reached out to well-connected individuals in corporate America who had just retired and offered them a revenue share to open doors for us," explained Don. The key to making it work was framing it in a way that didn't seem salesy. Don reached out explaining that he lacked experience in their market and that he'd like to pick their brains about how their technology could be applied in their industry.
After BHuman was adopted by the first 1,000 users, social media went crazy, and dozens of videos discussing it started popping up everywhere. Don and his team immediately capitalized on the opportunity by launching an affiliate program, which now has over 1000 affiliates, motivating more and more people to create videos about the platform.
One thing that really fascinates me about BHuman is that Don holds a one-hour livestream with their users every single day. As he puts it, "We are customer-obsessed. Every customer is so important because they are all megaphones for your company. We are all consumers too, and we hate bad customer support. Why do that to your users?”
“I think a lot of founders want their company to look bigger and more corporate than it is,” says Don. “But people don't want that. People want to deal with a human being, not some corporate shell. The office hours are a perfect example; they have received great reception because they show our commitment. I think founders and managers should always do customer support for at least an hour a day because you never want to become disconnected."
Lessons learned after raising from VCs
Raising ~$1M from VCs for their pre-seed round was not a walk in the park. They had validated the idea by working as an agency, but there wasn’t an actual product yet. "I spent six months doing five or six calls a day with VCs,” says Don. “I wasted a lot of time. They have their own biases, so it's not just about your product but also the buzz and hype around it.”
Don is also a first-time founder and had never raised capital before. This meant he had to learn some lessons the hard way. He explains, "We had a big list of 30,000 VCs, and we made personalized videos for them using our technology. We received a lot of calls." However, he quickly learned that qualifying VCs before reaching out will save both sides a lot of time. In fact, he wasted a lot of time with later-stage VCs that were not interested in investing at BHuman's stage but were just building their future pipeline.
But he has now learned his lesson. "If you are at the very early stage," he observes, "you want to talk to angels, maybe pre-seed funds depending on where you are. Otherwise, you're just going to waste your time talking to people for whom you're too early."