"Any big idea is going to take a while to get there. By definition, if its big and no one has done it before, it’s not going to be 1-2-3 we got it. There’s going to be a dark period in there because you don’t know what the key to getting there is."
- Ev Williams (Founder of Blogger/Twitter/Medium) in interview w/ Kevin Rose
I love this quote… especially now given that I definitely feel like I’m in a dark period with my own startup.
I’m also reminded of the story of Pandora and how when trying to raise money they got 300+ rejections from VCs before finally getting a yes.
Of what usefulness is a rejection if not used for motivation to continue.
Giving up would be too easy.
A couple weeks ago I met a VC from Mexico who is looking to get more active in the Dallas area.
His way of doing due diligence? Introducing me to a few potential customers he thought could use our service.
I’ve talked to a lot of investors in Dallas… probably at least 90% of the ones that are actively investing… and this may have been the first time an investor has offered to do something so positive for us as part of their process for evaluating an investment.
If you’re a founder, you know that the early-stage investment environment in Dallas (post-accelerator and pre-SeriesA) is a bit rough, and in my mind ripe for the taking by a new breed of Dallas investor. One less focused on playing in the good old boys club and more focused on helping smart founders succeed.
I see this trend accelerating with groups like Cowtown Angels doing Series A-sized deals and more outside investors looking to fill the holes left by the VC funds of the early 2000s. In addition, we’re seeing successful founders with recent exits reinvesting into local companies.
It’s a welcome change.
Recently we had an experience at Socialyzer where a customer wanted to cancel their account.
Because it’s still not an automated process, customers who wish to cancel must contact us via email to complete the cancelation.
As I always do, I asked this particular customer if he had any feedback for us about our service, why he was canceling and if there was anything we could do to keep him on.
His response was, “Your service was great until you started charging for it.”
This is the type of customer that, no matter how much value you’re providing to them, will never pay you a dime for your product/service.
They are out there. There are a lot of them. And you shouldn’t worry about it.
While it always hurts, at least a little bit, when a customer leaves, there is certainly no point and shedding tears over this type.
Dirt off the shoulder… soldier on… keep executing.
This past year has been crazy for me, both personally and professionally. I’ve been doing a bit of reflecting about lessons I’ve learned.
Here is a quick list:
1. Building a product is the easy part
Creating something from scratch on the web is an accomplishment in and of itself. Many people in the world don’t have the drive or willingness to learn to be able to do it. However, the reality is that this is the easiest part of doing an internet startup. It’s much harder to raise money, acquire customers and even just survive long enough to reach any level of success.
2. No one will help you as much as you can help yourself
The world is a pretty selfish place. Most people will only help you to the extent that it benefits them in some way. If you want/expect/need help from other people outside your company, the best possible thing you can do it make it extremely easy for them to help you. Outside help cannot and will not replace all out hustle on your part.
3. Focus on traction
Going through an incubator program skewed my worldview of what was important early on in my company. We wasted a lot of time with things related to fundraising while going through Tech Wildcatters. It was all useful stuff but at the end of the day it didn’t move the needle in terms of product & customers. In my experience, traction can overcome a bad deck/presentation but a great deck/presentation has a hard time overcoming no traction.
4. Personal support is so important
This year has been filled with massive amounts of stress for me. There have been moments where I’ve been extremely depressed and close to throwing in the towel. The only reason I’ve survived is because I have amazing people in my life that let me vent and complain but still know I love what I do and encourage me to persevere. If you can’t name who that person is for you in a split second, you need to start searching.. fast. I’ll be making changes in my own life so I can be closer to these people.
5. Optimize for happiness
We all know that as entrepreneurs we’ll have to make sacrifices, and we’re willing to do it. However, it’s also really easy to get carried away and believe you must do something no matter what the costs. I’ve come to realize this is can be a very dangerous thing and has the potential to negatively affect you and those around you. Upon considering my goals both for myself and my company, I believe it is possible (and necessary) to optimize for happiness. At the end of the day, I think it will make me more productive and useful/effective for my company.
These are just a few things that have been on my mind lately. What have you learned this year?
Photo courtesy of Johannes Sommer