Martin here. Welcome to the very first Subscriber Story!
This is a supplementary series I’m testing to amplify the experience, ideas, and insights of Founders’ Hustle subscribers. 🔎
Today I’m sharing the story of coSquare Founder and CEO Vadim Lidich!
Vadim’s first ‘big break’ came from a chance encounter. 🎲
As a non-technical founder he built an MVP in 2 weeks. 💪
He shares two hard lessons from his first failed startup. 😮
Vadim Lidich has an admirable story. 👀
At 17 he emigrated to Canada from Ukraine not knowing a word of English.
He learnt the local dialect by watching movies with subtitles and conversing with PenPal users over Skype.
Although, it didn’t come without trial and error. It takes a while to grasp the nuances of accents and slang terminology in the real world.
When people asked him “What’s up?” instead of replying “Hey” or “What’s up?” he would respond with a full account of his day.
It’s the logical thing to do! But, not quite right.
The English-speaking world is full of odd customs like that. 🤪
No matter, he soon built up confidence with the language by relentlessly practising with college classmates.
This empowered him to tackle the next challenge in his life. 💪
Vadim held a romantic view of the financial markets. What he calls a “1980s persona”.
Think Wall Street, Warren Buffet, and the like. “Lunch is for wimps.”
He wanted ‘in’ but didn’t have the right credentials or access to anyone in an industry notorious for being an ‘old boys club’.
Getting a position was going to be tough.
So, what did Vadim do? Tried to find or create access to a financial firm. 🔑
He asked his friends, college teachers, and mentors about connections.
It didn’t work.
He Googled professionals in the industry and cold emailed them.
It didn’t work.
Regular job applications were also a problem due to credential barriers.
So what did work? Serendipity.
One night Vadim was leaving a movie theater and noticed the subway was down.
It was a long walk home.
But, an “older gentleman” offered to give him a ride.
He remembers thinking “HMMM is this a good idea?!?!” 😬
Vadim came to the conclusion “Canada is fairly safe, people are generous and positive” and decided to get in the car.
They got talking. Politics, society… and then finance.
It turned out the “older gentleman” worked high up at a financial firm.
Vadim pitched his heart out. ❤️
Despite not being able to offer any subject matter value, the “older gentleman” could see his enthusiasm.
Vadim landed a meeting at the financial firm.
He met with some employees in a board room, was shown around the office, and then offered an internship in the “high net worth department investing money into various assets.”
Just like that. 😳
A couple of years into his financial role, Vadim realised it wasn’t what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
He came to the conclusion: “If I stay here for the next 20-30 years, no matter the salary, it’s not the best returns. My job meant making rich people richer. I’m not passionate about that. Innovation is more appealing!”
It was clear “tech was taking over” and he became convinced it was his future.
There was just one problem. He was ‘tied’ to the financial firm through a work visa.
“Quitting something for nothing would be suicide.” 💀
But, he felt lucky to be in Canada. Not pursuing his dreams would be a waste.
“The fact I had this opportunity… and was squandering to be who I wanted to be was killing me from the inside.”
So, he founded a side-hustle PropTech startup on the side called coSquare.
The premise was simple.
Provide an online two-sided marketplace for commercial leasing space that was too small for traditional brokers to manage cost-effectively.
There was just one problem.
Vadim didn’t know how to code. Or anything about web development.
And, neither did his cofounder. A common issue for startups!
So, they approached a friend who had the technical skills to build the product and began negotiations.
Meanwhile, they applied to a local incubator in Toronto.
Talks with the proposed technical cofounder eventually broke down. He wanted 50% of the company. Vadim and the other cofounder wanted to split equity evenly.
There was a roadblock. 🚧
Relations finally fell apart just two weeks before ‘demo day’ at the incubator.
Vadim needed to present a working product to the incubator ‘judges’, and all he had was an idea and a wireframe sketched out on paper.
No technical founder. No money. No product. Nothing.
This was a pivotal moment. ⌛
“Stress and time constraint is the biggest accelerator of learning,” he asserts of this period.
Astoundingly, Vadim came to the conclusion he and his other cofounder had to learn how to build an MVP and get it up and running in two weeks!
That would be nights and weekends only, since he still had a day job.
They got got their heads down. Vadim took ownership of the backend whilst his cofounder took initiative on the frontend.
You may be thinking, but how? 🤔
“I was on YouTube everyday watching tutorials, pausing every 3 seconds trying to replicate what was happening in the video on my screen” he fondly remembers.
Vadim realised he didn’t need to code anything fundamentally new he just needed to “stich together” a collection of already existing code in a particular way to create the experience he needed. Github proved to be an invaluable resource.
They pulled off an MVP in time for demo day. 👏
It had the base functionality needed to convey the core experience. You could register and choose to be a tenant or a landlord and do basic things.
But, there was a problem. They didn’t spend any time on quality assurance.
Demo day came. ⏰
Ten minutes before the call with the incubator judge the website stopped working.
A message displayed “something went wrong with your server connection”.
It turned out the website they had hastily hacked together only worked if you clicked buttons in a specific sequence. Not doing this broke it.
Vadim reset the server.
It rebooted in time for the call. But, the judge had already tried to access it.
“Is your website alright, is it functional?” he said right away. 😳
“Yes!” — Vadim rescued the call with a demo that got coSquare accepted into the incubator.
But, it was an overwhelming few weeks for the coSquare team.
On top of building the website they had other aspects to contend with.
“We were learning everything at once… pitching, metrics, market dynamics.
We had no clue what we were talking about. I had no confidence in my own projections!”
Vadim speaks fondly of his time in the incubator.
“They put us in touch with advisors, filled in gaps on our understanding of marketing and fundraising. Gave access to workshops, CFOs, and market agent owners.”
“But the real value add is the network not the knowledge.You can’t meet people sitting on YouTube.
We went to every meeting and presentation. It gave us the network that we lacked. We got quite a few advisors or people that helped us for free.”
Significantly, Vadim says it fundamentally changed his perspective of the world.
His mindset shifted to looking at everything in way that “it could be done better, not accepting the way things are.”
He kept on learning to program and found it very liberating.
“Every idea I had I could build it!”
But, Vadim would go on to learn some hard lessons from his time building and launching coSquare. It never took off.
🎓 First lesson. coSquare spent nearly a year building the platform they envisioned before talking to any prospective customers.
The product was already built by the time they spoke to their first landlord. Up until that point they were “going off assumptions” about “how an ideal world should work.”
Vadim has this message for first time founders: “For people that are starting out, go and talk to people first. Speak with a 100 stakeholders when you have a new idea. Founders, investors, customers. Don’t build anything. Just go talk to them!”
🎓 Second lesson. coSquare kept changing their product on an almost monthly basis. Certainly not enough time to conclusively figure out if there is a market for a product idea or not. They were impatient.
“We pivoted to many times to fast! Have a timeline to let your idea playout… 6, 9, 12 months.”
This was partly driven by listening to too many stakeholders in the market, who just wern’t interested and were in hindsight not a great fit. Focusing on enthusiastic first adopters—Ideal Customer Profile targets— was key, but they didn’t do it.
“You don’t need everyone to like you, just a small group who love you.”
Vadim recalls he recently attended a PropTech demo day at a TechStars event in Toronto. “Every single one of them pitched my own company and had millions in revenue or funding!”
It was validation his business model was viable, but they didn’t stick at it for long enough to make it work.
Vadim spent the next few years as a “promiscuous startup” founder and advisor.
Chris.ai—AI text messaging service.
Emote AI—AI performance enhancement recommendations for eSport athletes.
Knnct Markets—AI-powered mortgage marketplace.
Airdyme.io—Venture Capital learning resource.
None of these really worked out and he’s since moved on to relaunching coSquare as a LegalTech startup. ⚖️
The inspiration for this came from the PropTech version of coSquare.
“We had built a contract management tool for a lease document. You’d type in variables like client name, date, etc instead of chopping and changing a master agreement.”
Vadim thought if he could produce more of these for other types of agreements he could save lawyers a ton of time and make them way more efficient.
Learning from previous mistakes, before building anything, he jumped on the phone with some lawyers to get their feedback.
As it turns out, they don’t care about being more efficient! They charge by the hour. 💵
But, he did discover something else that was just a promising.
The lawyers said “I’ll sign up for anything that brings me clients—we suck at marketing!”
This insight led to a lead-gen LegalTech product that launched in September 2020.
Folks with a legal question can head over to coSquare.co, enter their details, and have their question sent off to appropriate lawyers.
Lawyers respond with their answer, and, in some cases, engage with each other for a longer-term relationship.
Vadim proudly says this “flips the existing model on its head!” 🙃
Up until now, if you wanted a simple question answered by a lawyer you generally had to sign an engagement letter, maybe a retainer, then an hourly rate, and then you get the answer to your question.
By that time you are kind of stuck with them and have paid a bunch of money, whether or not you think their work is good or not.
With coSquare’s model, folks can get a feel for what it’d be like to engage with a lawyer before committing to do so.
This is significant in an industry that “can be a commodity” depending upon the service needed.
Vadim says “experience is the differentiator… time, communication, transparency.”
“We extract that value and bring it upfront, by showcasing the lawyer’s work and approachability before doing business with a client.”
I asked why a successful law firm would partner with coSquare. Surely they are inundated with clients? 🤔
Vadim said “Yes, successful lawyers at big law firms are busy, but there are newly qualified law students that are open to using coSquare. They need clients. If they answer a question they have a 20% chance of signing that lead up as a longterm customer.”
What I personally love about how Vadim is testing this model is he actually hasn’t built very much. Just a website to capture interest.
Everything that goes on in the background is done manually by email.
Visitors to his website click a ‘mailto:’ link which then fires off an email to him. This, in turn, he sends onto the lawyers. He then waits for responses, does some light editing, and sends it back to the lead along with an invoice. Brilliant. 👌
So far coSquare has helped 300 people.
I asked Vadim how he is promoting the website.
He’s been testing various approaches.
📣 PR: Reaching out to journalists in big traditional publications requesting a write-up. One has so far obliged! This drove 1k visitors from the GlobeMail to the coSquare website.
Vadim said “traditional media is less saturated than other channels like social. There are less eyeballs, but more visibility.”
🤝 Partnerships: coSquare has partnered with organisations such as Access to Justice and Legal Incubation Zone, a LegalTech incubator.
✍️ Content: Posting entertaining and informative content on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn, as well answering questions on Quora.
🔎 SEO: Optimizng coSquare.co to be search engine friendly, nurturing backlinks from reputable sources, and writing articles for popular search terms like “How to find a lawyer” and “What types of legal fees lawyers charge?”
📕 Directories: Sharing coSquare on Hacker News under the narrative “LegalTech is getting disrupted” and posting on Craigslist and Kijiji (which he describes as “hacky!”).
Vadim said getting featured in traditional media has so been the “most effective [strategy] in terms of leads."
What’s next for coSquare?
▶️ Automating labour-intensive tasks.
🧪 Testing new customer acquisition channels.
🧐 Building a better understanding of client needs.
Good luck, Vadim!
If you’d like to feature in a future Subscriber Story, drop an email to email@example.com and I’ll schedule you in!
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