5 Lessons I Learned When I Created My App or SAAS: “Focus on a single goal” with Jason Lotoski and Mitch Russo
Focus on a single goal and build it out over a 3–6 month span, not in two or more years — you can’t guarantee you’ll be around that long. When defining your objective, solve one problem, not ten, and do that one really well.
As part of my series about the “5 Lessons, I Learned When I Created My App or SAAS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jason Lotoski. Kelowna-based entrepreneur Jason Lotoski is the CEO and Founder of Tonit, a motorcycle community app built by riders for riders. Lotoski is also the Founder and President of Sport Bike West, a regional motorcycle club based in Western Canada. Lotoski had an early interest in entrepreneurship and started several business ventures on his own, including a Glow Stick company, when he was only 13 years old. That same year Lotoski bought a KX100 Dirtbike using the $8,000 he made from selling glow sticks. This is where his passion began and grew for the two-wheeled lifestyle. Later on when he started riding road motorcycles he felt there was a disconnect within the community — he was looking for new people to ride with but had no way to connect with them or find group rides to join. In an effort to bring motorcyclists together, he started organizing regional club meet-ups, along with a popular series of show-and-shine events, before expanding his horizons to connect hundreds of thousands of riders in one place with Tonit — a lifestyle app developed specifically for the motorcycle community. Drawing from his background in civil engineering, business and his passion for the open road, Lotoski developed the app to be a digital community for riders to connect, find group rides, map and track routes, share motorcycle experiences, and as a place to promote safety on the road. Tonit now connects riders on their journeys throughout the globe with a community that strengthens mile-after-mile.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I started riding dirt bikes when I was 13 and rode them for 10 years before buying a road motorcycle. This is when I realized that there was a disconnect within the community — I was looking for new people to ride with but had no way to connect with them or find group rides to join. Tonit was born to fill this gap.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
In an effort to bring motorcyclists together, I started organizing regional club meetups, along with a popular series of show-and-shine events. When my Sportbike West group blew up, I realized there was an opportunity to expand the idea and connect millions of riders in one place with Tonit — a social platform developed specifically for the motorcycle community.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I’m not the type to let things go or give up but it definitely crossed my mind in the early days of Tonit. I gained the motivation to keep going because along with a belief in what I was doing, other riders I spoke to supported the idea and believed in the concept. I have no background in technology or app development so getting the concept off the ground was tricky — there were many failures along the way but I couldn’t allow myself to give up. When you have a goal, no matter how lofty, you need incredible drive and an unwavering belief in what you’re doing. My determination was rooted in a daily ritual that I continue to this day — I wake up every morning, tell myself I can achieve my goals, and do whatever it takes to make them a reality.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Things are going well, but as with any passion project, we have an endless road and the work is never done. We have built a team and a community of users who believe in and support what we are doing and when I see users connecting on the app and the Tonit team in action, I know the hard work is really paying off.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
One story comes to mind — I hired a developer to build the app but instead he just created interactive mockups and called it an app. It took $64,000 and 8-months of time to make this discovery — but definitely not funny! From this experience I learned that if you don’t have a technical background, work with a mentor who can help qualify the developers and set up your expectations for their work from the get-go. Also, sometimes you have to roll with the punches and learn from the challenges that come your way.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We are building something that has never existed for the motorcycle community and so far the riders love the product and experience. And, as much as it is about the riders, we also have an amazing team at Tonit — made up of both riders and non-riders — who love their jobs and truly believe in supporting the motorcycle community. We’ve always made it a goal to listen to our users and their feedback and ideas help influence the development of the app. Tonit is built for riders and we want to expand the product to support the community that uses it.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Take time for yourself — not much — but make sure you really try and relax once in awhile. Get at least six hours of sleep, eat healthy, and again, find a mentor or someone you can bounce ideas off of — this is the key to staying on-track mentally.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Jeff Keen. He’s helped me focus on the big picture and has motivated me to keep going during the hard times. I remember him saying, “build the fastest growing, biggest, best, most badass company you can possibly build. But, make sure you are making the decisions you think are the right ones because the last thing you want is to reflect on the company if it fails and regret a decision based on advice or pressure from different stakeholders. Definitely search for and take advice but you are the one who knows your business the best.”
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?
We have about 170,000 active users that post almost every day and 215,000 downloads, as of September 20, 2019.
1. When we first started we used a lot of paid advertising to help get the world out and build momentum. That has continued to benefit us as we’ve now built a strong community that continue to promote the app through their network.
2. By building a strong community, our users act as our marketers.
3. We provide an easy way for riders to connect on the app and share their love for the community with the world. Our users have a common goal of creating a friendly, fun, and safe environment for all motorcyclists to share their passion for riding.
What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?
We currently aren’t revenue-generating but have a few pillars for monetization that we’ll implement in the future. Right now we are focused on growing our community quickly and keeping engagement high.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know before one wants to start an app or a SAAS? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. It’s extremely difficult — you either know the tech side or the business side. It’s very hard to know both so identify your strength early and focus on that, then build a team to help fill the gaps.
2. Mentorship is key. You will have an extremely hard time succeeding without mentors.
3. Focus on a single goal and build it out over a 3–6 month span, not in two or more years — you can’t guarantee you’ll be around that long. When defining your objective, solve one problem, not ten, and do that one really well.
4. Validation and user feedback are your CORE. Every decision should be based on that.
5. Be ready to pivot and change direction. If users or customers are telling you they want something else, don’t sit around and wait to change, do it.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
This is exactly the foundation of Tonit — bringing all the motorcycle riders in the world together in one place to share their passion and experiences and to be accepted and welcomed into an amazing community. I can’t wait for the day that riders use Tonit across the globe.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
5 Lessons I Learned When I Created My App or SAAS: “Focus on a single goal” with Jason Lotoski… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.