How Jonathon Built and Sold a Business While Learning to Code

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How Jonathon Built and Sold a Business While Learning to Code

The freedom and flexibility of running an online business appeal to most of us. For Jonathon Ringeisen, the desire to do something on his own led to new skills and a venture that would change his career path.

Like millions of others, Jonathon wanted to learn how to code. But unlike most people who choose to learn in a low-pressure experimental environment, Jonathon wanted to create something of value while gaining experience, so he started a business and learned on the fly.

While most people pay for an education, Jonathon’s real-world education resulted in a profitable business that he sold for an upper five-figure sum. Additionally, the experience built the foundation for endeavors that will pay off for many years to come. Here’s his story.

From the Army to Entrepreneur

After serving eight years in the Army, Jonathon Ringeisen attended college classes. However, he decided college wasn’t for him and dropped out just one course short of an associate’s degree.

At that time (2017), Jonathon didn’t know what was next for him, but he knew he wanted to do something on his own. He decided to learn how to code, but he wanted to learn by working on something meaningful. “I didn’t want to build something like a to-do app or a blog to get a basic understanding,” Jonathon said. “I wanted to build something complex so I would learn more while also being able to sell and market the product and generate revenue.”

Jonathon’s wife, Elena, had recently started an online business selling Lightroom presets to photographers (Lightroom is a popular photo editing program, and presets apply specific looks or effects to photos). He decided to create a customer relationship manager (CRM) for photographers to capitalize on the audience Elena was already building.

Essential Studio Manager (ESM) was Jonathon’s business and education. He learned to code by following online tutorials and building ESM. Although the progress felt slow at times, Jonathon knew he was building something useful and gaining valuable real-world experience.

Jonathon chose to create a CRM because it was an ambitious project that would push him and allow him to learn a lot of different things. “Building a CRM,” he said, “made me a more rounded software engineer in that it helped me build the foundation for my future learnings.”

Through the experience with ESM, Jonathon learned front-end and back-end web development. He also learned how to build features that allowed users to have clients sign contracts, schedule and book sessions, and more complex functionalities than a simple website.

The initial version of ESM was very simple, as you would expect from someone still learning how to code. It allowed photographers to manage clients and create a to-do list, but that was it. Jonathon priced it at $5 per month because of the limitations.

Growing ESM

Once the minimum viable product (MVP) was ready, Jonathon started to promote ESM. Since Elena had a growing customer list of photographers, Jonathon started by emailing them.

He also ran Facebook ads and included a referral program that incentivized ESM users to share it with friends and colleagues. Jonathon said, “I built a referral program into the ESM that would allow users to refer our platform to people they knew, and in return, they would get money.”

Although ESM was now a profitable business, Jonathon knew he had to continue improving it. One of the most important actions he took was creating a feedback tool so ESM users could share suggestions and constructive criticism. “Your users’ feedback is soooo important,” Jonathon said, “and I wanted the users of the ESM to know that they were heard.”

The feedback Jonathon gathered from users helped him to continually improve the product over the next few years as he gained coding experience.

ESM users also provided feedback on the product’s pricing. Many of them told Jonathon the price was too low, so he increased it to $15 per month and then eventually $29 per month (which was still cheaper than his competitors).

During this time, Jonathon was also learning how to run a business. Thankfully, Jonathon’s wife Elena’s strengths proved to be an excellent complement to his abilities. “Typically, not always, developers tend to be not so great at sales and marketing, but they’re great at building things and solving problems,” Jonathon said. “So find someone that is great with the things you’re not and partner with that person. I was fortunate enough that my wife is my business partner, and she does all the sales and marketing, and I do all the building and customer support.”

Deciding to Sell the Business

After building ESM and growing the business for a few years, Jonathon and Elena started a new project in 2021. Wordsmith is a social media content creation platform, and it took off quickly.

With Wordsmith doing well and demanding more of Jonathon’s time, he started to think about selling ESM in 2022, five years after beginning the project. Although ESM was profitable, his time was better spent on Wordsmith or other businesses.

“Selling ESM was a tough decision,” Jonathon said, but ultimately, he felt it was necessary. ESM had plateaued at about $1,600 MRR, and the competition was intense. It was an excellent learning experience, but Jonathon knew ESM was no longer the best use of his time.

The problem was that Jonathon didn’t have any idea how to sell a business. After researching some options, he came across

Jonathon listed ESM on for $90,000, which was about 7x annual profit. He said it took about two weeks from the time the listing went live until he had a signed agreement and money in his bank account (note, the market was much different in 2022 than it is in 2024). However, things didn’t go as planned.

Jonathon said, “The buyer of ESM wanted to merge with his company, and he was offering $60,000 upfront. After six months, if we met certain KPIs, we would get an additional $30,000, or we could take 5% equity in his company. This is where I recommend you get a lawyer involved. We didn’t, and it came back to bite us.

“Six months in, we couldn’t agree on how to calculate the KPIs. The buyer didn’t want to give us the $30,000 even though we met both KPIs, so we ended up having a falling out with the buyer and convinced him to at least pay $10,000 of the $30,000. So, when all was said and done, we received a total of $70,000, and we split our ways on bad terms. The lesson learned here is to have a lawyer involved in the transaction.”

Despite the issue with the buyer, Jonathon’s overall experience growing and selling ESM was a success. And he also had good things to say about his experience with “Without,” he said, “I don’t think I would have been able to sell my company, so I’m very happy for Acquire and enjoy watching their success.”

Moving on to Bigger and Better Things

Today, Jonathon and Elena are working on two projects: Wordsmith and Venture. According to Jonathon, Wordsmith currently generates about $10,000 MRR, and Venture is pre-revenue.

“Venture uses OpenAI and is a student-led software,” Jonathon said, “so the students ask the questions, and Venture answers them. We’ve built out a custom moderation feature that if a student asks an inappropriate or politically charged question, they are directed to ask their parents. We’ve built out a dashboard for the parents to see how their students are doing, and we’ve also built out a student dashboard so they can track their progress. This is still pre-revenue, but we currently have 300 students signed up on Venture and have a lot more features to build.”

Although these are the only two projects they’re currently working on, Jonathon says that Elena has “a whole list of ideas,” so he’s sure to continue using the skills he learned through his experience with ESM.

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