Aspiring entrepreneurs are everywhere and practically shout it from the rooftops to let you know it.
They tout a #hustle lifestyle anywhere someone will listen on social media, slap the letters CEO on their Instagram profile, share every cliche quote that comes across their Facebook feed, and it often amounts to nothing.
The term wantrepreneur, as Mark Cuban would say, is usually much more fitting.
But then there are those who are actually doing.
You often don’t hear from them because they’re busy working. They are focused. They are driven. They are sacrificing, executing, and building.
They lay one brick at a time, day in and day out, with an understanding that there are no shortcuts when building a business.
One such budding entrepreneur is Mike Moloney, founder of FilterGrade, an online marketplace of high quality Photoshop actions and Lightroom presets.
Together with his brother Matt, Mike has built FilterGrade into a fast growing and successful business.
But you won’t hear Mike brag about the success he’s had so far. He speaks humbly and with gratitude for where he is on his journey of entrepreneurship.
Like many entrepreneurs Mike felt the calling of entrepreneurship as a kid, starting when he and his brother would offer snow shoveling services after big storms in his hometown of West Bloomfield, Michigan.
At 16 Mike founded FilterGrade to scratch his own itch.
Mike loves photography and hopes to one day travel the world making a living from it.
But when he first discovered this passion he couldn’t find the answers to questions he had about editing and improving his skills.
So in true entrepreneur fashion, he started a company to provide a solution.
FilterGrade’s early investment in high-quality blog content played a big role in the site’s popularity, driving tens of thousands of users to the website for articles covering topics such as how to pose male vs female models, fonts for photographers, and Photoshop tutorials.
But it took three years for FilterGrade to take its current form as a marketplace.
“It started as just a little shop where it was FilterGrade’s branded software and we just sold our Photoshop actions. After doing that for a year I noticed there was also a Lightroom preset market, so I started getting into that with our own products. And then this past Summer  is when we really transformed it from being more than just filter products and into a full marketplace. That started from one product [a Lightroom preset] from a photographer on Instagram, and so we launched it. It did OK, but it was just another product on the site. It wasn’t until we started recruiting more partners that we saw real traction.”
A perfect example of how timing is everything in entrepreneurship.
Let me explain:
FilterGrade sat (and still sits) perfectly at the intersection of three booming markets.
A new wave of aspiring photographers stemming from improvements in smartphone camera technology.
The boom of Instagram from 100 million users in 2013 to 600 million users in 2016.
The subsequent Instagram influencer market where photographers on the platform have become micro-celebrities.
FilterGrade’s blog was already driving traffic to the site, but it was the partnerships that Mike and his brother Matt established with popular photographers on Instagram that led to the rapid growth.
Instagram accounts of some of the most popular influencers on FilterGrade
Of course, it was Mike’s years of hard work and dedication to FilterGrade that put him in this position of opportunity in the first place.
And the continued success of FilterGrade will be predicated on a lot more than smart marketing and good timing.
Mike, now 20, has an understanding of customer service and business savvy well beyond his years.
“I always try to build creative things into the brand that give a little fun or happiness to the user, or joy, because I think that lasts longer than some of that superficial stuff that people try to put in products. Solid customer support is really the biggest thing though. I think a lot of companies don’t understand how valuable support is to the growth of a company. Word of mouth marketing will start from good or bad support. And if you get good support you’re going to have a lot of good word of mouth marketing. But if you have bad support, it’s going to be the opposite.”
Mike attributes his knowledge of business to his own intuition, knowledge from mentors, and reading books. But mostly he credits the process of trial and error.
“You have to know you’re going to fail a thousand times but that one time you get it right is going to be good because you’re going to learn something from all 1,001 experiences.”
Mike now lives in Boston but hopes to plant his roots in San Francisco in the next few years.
And we’re sure the West Coast would welcome a person of Mike’s caliber with open arms, whenever he is ready.