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After 4 years of self-funded coding marathons I feel "finished", care to talk?
379 points by exhaustedhacker on Oct 21, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 184 comments
I created a throwaway account to vent a little and, to be honest, to seek support of sorts from fellow entrepreneurial hackers who lurk here. I'm facing the lowest low of my journey at this point and there is no better venue to express my frustration.

I'll spellcheck this, but it won't be smooth - English isn't my native tongue.

Here's my story:

4 years ago I quit my good paying programming job, teamed up with a friend and started working on our new venture. New languages, lots of fun, a few excited beta customers - nothing could be better. The idea was big, it definitely needed funding to succeed, so after about a year of coding we still managed to pull off a nice and usable MVP which we "launched", i.e. just stopped tweaking the server. We applied to YC (rejected by email), studied "how to pitch to TC" and spent a week crafting our email to them (no response), submitted our product to HN and got rave reviews - it sat at #1 for almost the entire day in 08 and then... Silence. We never, ever got any press. We spent a couple of months trying to get some coverage but never received a single reply. We studied the blogsphere, followed people's advice, but nobody cared, so customers didn't know about us. The only way to get customers was Adwords which was prohibitively expensive, so after wasting a year and $20K of my savings I moved on. Meanwhile a mediocre competitor launched in LA, raised $12M, got their mandatory TC announcement, and another one, and another... basically a TC article for every little feature they would add. That was absolutely devastating...

For about a year I was consulting. Moved to another city to make it easier to cope with failure, gradually increased my consulting earnings to maybe 80% of my "pre-startup" levels and learned how to spend weekends with my family again.

It didn't last though - on January 2010 I got an idea which wasn't quite as huge and expensive to implement, hence I wouldn't need to send cold emails to various angle groups and VCs, so I was quite excited to trying again. I also took a sizable chunk of my savings ($60K) and hired a developer to work with me on this venture. We've been coding like mad.. I've never been so productive. In just 8 months without any funding we went from zero to a beautiful system, signed up a couple of early customers by attending local meetups and events, and prepared for a Big Day.

...And now the same thing is happening: no response from our carefully crafted TC email (yeah, yeah, with "story" and something for TC readers, I've been reading PR-related blog posts religiously) and this time I can't even get on CrunchBase! Our company profile got stuck in "pending" mode while I'm seeing tens of new companies show up every day. Did YC again. My application is out there but I don't even entertain myself with the thought of being accepted: I'm a solo founder, didn't go to Stanford, in my mid 30s, etc. Haven't seen much of those in TC announcements. I can't even announce my product on HN and Reddit (my two only chances of any PR) because that would mean that TC loses exclusivity and won't cover me tomorrow or on Monday. What a great feeling!

So here is what I want to say to anyone who's considering jumping into the cold waters of launching your own company:

Have a fucking great idea

We all know what they say about execution. That's true. But that doesn't apply to you. You can't afford to be "average idea, but great execution" company, because you're alone. Or just too small. Average-idea-great-execution companies know people, have capital and the luxury of having every feature of their average idea covered on TechCrunch and other blogs. They can sponsor conferences, print t-shirts, host parties and announce contests - all those things ARE execution. That's the value a program like YCombinator provides, you just won't be able to do it - you're not in the Valley, you don't have 20 hours of week to network, blog, tweet, drink, etc. And coding won't get you there, therefore...

Have a fucking great idea

You'll also hear how cheap PR is these days, just start a blog. Nope, that's also not for you. Because blogging is a nearly full-time occupation, so don't expect to gain readership with that little precious time you have left from coding your product and working your day job. Successful blogs are written by well-funded competitors who don't have to code 18 hours a day and have capital to keep staff on payroll to blog/tweet/whatever and make as much attention-grabbing noise as possible. Writing pieces like "Why Scala?" twice a month won't do it for you, I've tried. So...

Have a fucking great idea

Your only chance, really, is to build something which can spread like a virus after being announced on a col-de-sac party. Something utterly addictive, unusual and truly amazing. A great self-selling, self-propagating viral-on-steroids idea (assuming you can code) is your only chance to succeed.

Ughh, I already feel a little better. My wife's expecting me home in half an hour, so I need to come up with a cheerful answer to her inevitable "how was your Big Launch Day?", that answer needs to be awesome and funny, to help take my mind off my empty inbox and server logs.

Oh, about scalas, clojures and rubies - they really, really don't matter.

Why are you paying so much attention to your "launch day"? It's an entrepreneurial myth that there is a mighty "launch" that sets the tone of your business. When was Twitter "launched"? When was Carbonmade "launched"? When was Balsamiq "launched"? Or SquareSpace, MailChimp, or Fog Creek? Sure, they "launched", but who cared?

You are building a business. It does not spring from your forehead like Athena, or get pooped out of your pet Nibbler like Dark Matter on Futurama. Listen to what everyone else here has to say. Sure, pick something with favorable long-tail SEO dynamics. Sure, pick something with a viral loop. Sure, build yourself a tribe.

But then, for god's sake, pick something you can stick with, nurture, protect, and grow over the long run. That thing you don't have, that you keep calling "a fucking great idea"? Most of us call it "a winning lottery ticket". Stop thinking about playing the lottery. Get back to work.

This, this, a thousand times this. After launch, Peldi was pounding the pavement talking to itty-bitty software bloggers (like me) and giving away hundreds of licenses (60+ a day early on, I've heard) to get the word out about how much time/effort you'd save doing mockups his way. His talk about it at the Business of Software was extraordinarily inspiring: his meteoric success in the last three years is the culmination of hard charging for the last 22.

FogCreek was a wee little consultancy which got the market shot out from under it which launched a product that nobody cared about which happened to produce an industrial biproduct which, ten years later, employs a few dozen developers in an office next door to the New York Stock Exchange.

My software -- which is not nearly on the scale of either of the above businesses -- launched to all of 116 visitors. Four and a half years of very, very part-time work later, it pays my salary. (It will sell the hundred thousandth dollar worth of software some time before Halloween.) I'm happy as a clam and getting the next adventure ready as we speak.

When are you going to launch? I've been waiting since March for the details on how you'll market to your target audience. Personally I don't see how you're going to do it without going door to door, but if you manage to crack this nut, I've got a bunch of products lined up for which I'll copy your marketing strategy :) (totally different from yours, I don't think any of the JoS board BCC copycats are making a dime, so I'm not going there ;) )

I'm planning on launch by the end of November (cross fingers). My marketing strategy is mostly going to be organic SEO, and some folks with pre-existing relationships in the market want to white label it, which is not difficult for me to offer.

You could argue Twitter (and FourSquare) were both launched at SXSW.

Totally agree with you point though.

Yes. Launch, smaunch. You'll be launched when people start telling their friends about it.

I totally hear your frustration. I've become incredibly burned out on launching startups / small products that flop.

I'd say one thing - Techcrunch is definitely NOT the only game in town for PR. They are very fickle and clique-y. There are huge startups that never made a dent in TC. PR is all about building buzz from the ground up, exclusives are a load of crap and mostly reserved for established players anyhow.

If you're not getting any coverage from anywhere, yes maybe there's something at the core that isn't compelling (and you need to talk to customers / users first to determine that), but chances are you aren't spending enough time sending fun personal emails to lower-level bloggers and journalists. If you aren't in the elite old-boys club, you shouldn't be focused on approaching the journalists who are.

But PR and "viral" launches are hard work. The idea of the massively hockey-stick organic viral launch is largely a myth propagated by a few outliers (aka survivor bias).

And good PR does not make a success, either. I've built 2 things that made big PR splashes (everything BUT TC haha) and neither landed me either fame or fortune. The one product was blogged about by the New York freakin Times, and it never achieved escape velocity. PR isn't a long-term marketing strategy. Its a one-time high and believe me the downslope doesn't feel good either

Honestly, there are 2 types of folks who make it: the lucky ones, and the persistent ones. Its hard as hell (and heck I haven't beaten it yet) but you have to ignore the burnout and be one of the persistent ones

Honestly, there are 2 types of folks who make it: the lucky ones, and the persistent ones.

Best entrepreneurial quote ever IMO.

Be persistent until you get lucky!

Lucky people have worked hard to put themselves in a position to be lucky. Its also called opportunity, and it comes to those who are ready.

I couldn't agree more. A thought I've had in my head for years but never articulated it quite this well.

You reminded me of a quote by Ray Kroc, the guy responsible for McDonald's growth:

"Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common that unsuccessful individuals with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."

Great quote but it was Calvin Coolidge.

Fascinating, because I have a newspaper cutting with this quote attributed to him that must be more than 20 years old. I'm not doubting you. It's just I've always had this quote in my head and attributed it to Kroc.

It doesn't matter, of course, in this context, so thanks for the heads up.

Godlike genius.. Godlike nothing! Sticking to it is the genius! I've failed my way to success. --Thomas Edison

Great quote but it was F.B. Silverwood, part of a rousing sales pep talk from a hundred years ago:


He was a merchant who moved from Chicago to Los Angeles and wrote the little-known official song of California:


I had mefeedia on Techcrunch, and mentioned in the NYT, WSJ, Rolling Stone back in the day. The press didn't drive that much usage/traffic, really. It was mostly about being in a hot space though, I don't have any tricks to get press to share.

Arington "covered" my project with a one-liner post that basically asked if anyone's heard of it. This generated some traffic, but it also generated calls from about a dozen VCs that led to a handful of in-person meetings. The odd part is that being in Canada I didn't know what TC was, and didn't realize the importance of mention for another few months... though the net effect of the mention was close to zero.

One of the lucky ones ;)

Agreed. I don't understand why so many people want TC coverage.

If you sell pianos, find musicians.

If you sell coupons, find local restaurants.

What are you selling that's gonna go on TC?

YES. Exactly.

Though I think the draw to TC is probably more about building buzz for investors than anything else

Especially if you aren't doing something in a hot space or aren't creating a consumer facing app. I don't blame them though, if your product is say focused at niche businesses and has little general appear it's not going to resonate well with readers.

You seem to have been terribly misled. Only very rarely do products sell themselves. 99% of the time, the product is largely incidental to the sales process. Your idea doesn't matter one jot, what matters is how well you can connect to customers and really sell to them.

Let me tell you about a fine English gentleman by the name of Joe Ades, now sadly no longer with us. Joe wore Savile Row suits and lived in a three-bedroomed apartment on Park Avenue. He spent most nights at the Café Pierre with his wife, sharing a bottle of his usual - Veuve Clicquot champagne. You might assume that Joe was a banker or an executive, but in fact Joe sold potato peelers on the street for $5 each, four for $20.

I urge you, I implore you, I beg you, stop what you're doing and watch Joe in action - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCUct4NlxE0

That is what business looks like. Sometimes, once in a million, you luck upon a product so amazing the world beats a path to your door. For most of us, the best we can hope for is to be some chump with a thousand boxes of vegetable peelers. Anybody can sit out on the street with a box of peelers, but Joe sold them. Joe made his peelers sing, he made them seem like magic. He took a humble piece of stamped metal and created theatre. He did something so simple and strange and wonderful that people would buy a fistful of his peelers, just so they could tell their friends about this little Englishman they saw in Union Square.

Look at the Fortune 500, tell me what you see. I see grocery stores, drugstores, oil companies, banks, a funny little concern that sells sugar water. I see a whole lot of hard work and very few great ideas.

Forget about striking it big with a great idea, it's just as childish and naïve as imagining that the tape you're recording in your garage is going to make you a rockstar. Get out there and talk to customers. Find out what they need, what annoys them, what excites them. Build the roughest, ugliest piece of crap that you can possibly call a product. If you're not ashamed of it, you've spent too long on it. Try and sell it. Some people will say "I'm not buying that piece of crap, it doesn't even do X". If X isn't stupid, implement X. Some people, bizarrely, will say "yes, I will buy your piece of crap". It is then and only then that you are actually developing a product. Until you've got a customer, it's just an expensive hobby. Paying customer number one is what makes it a product.

I don't want to get all wishy-washy philosophical on you here but in Joe's case I would argue that he IS the product.

To wit, regarding the OP's main point:

- selling potato peelers is not a "fucking great idea" by any means.

- selling potato peelers in a $1000 suit, in manhattan, as a chirpy english gentlemen IS a fucking great idea.

it's an idea that sells itself, you basically touched on the same point as the OP. He did something so simple and strange and wonderful that people would buy a fistful of his peelers, just so they could tell their friends about this little Englishman they saw in Union Square. You have to be a little crazy, be a little disruptive, and that's going to get you your audience.

If he did it poorly, no one would care. It's not a great fucking idea. He just did it so well - and he did it so well because he had practiced it for so long.

Up until recently, I lived a few blocks from Union Square (I've since moved to San Francisco). I used to see Joe out there all the time, especially when the farmer's market was there. He was always bright, chipper, theatrical...he had a sales pitch that was half song, half story, and made you want to step up even if you had not the slightest need for a potato peeler. No matter what, he always made you smile. His daughter has taken over the business now that's he's gone.

Thank you so much for reminding me of him.

Good Lord - I want one of those potato peelers.

That guy's a better salesman dead than most people on Earth.

Your idea doesn't matter one jot. What matters is how well you can connect to customers and really sell to them.

I think you could put it better: Your idea has to be something people feel they want and will use. People don't want a drill; they want a hole in the wood. Joe Ades didn't sell a potato peeler; he sold a way to get your kids to eat their veggies, a way to make great french fries.

Have a fucking great idea

Nonsense. How the fuck do you know it's a great idea? Your ego. I'm sorry but you won't know (can't know) if it is what people want or need. No one does. Trust me, the music industry and film industry would love to know when they will have a hit.

But unlike film and music we can iterate. Take your ego out and let people tell you what they want. Try to understand their core desire and work with that. Ignore funding. You're begging for TechCrunch coverage? Unless your market is "people who read TC", you're wasting you're time. Apply any way you can to those people directly in your market. And if you don't know who they are or how to do that, stop and go back to your day job. Because the software business is not about the software; it's about the business.

Somewhat off topic (though slightly relevant): do you read Magic articles? That exact drill/hole metaphor was used in Mike Flores' yesterday article (which is a good piece of writing, and HN people might be interested even if they don't play Magic): http://www.wizards.com/Magic/Magazine/Article.aspx?x=mtg/dai...

This is good advice, but Joe didn't get his three-bedroom apartment from selling potato peelers. He got it from his fourth wife (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/03/nyregion/03ades.html).

Hard work is important, knowing the right people helps.

Wow, thank you, it was worth every second of watching Joe in action.

AMEN! Why do you think infomercials continue to run...THEY SELL A SHITLOAD OF PRODUCT! Think about the Magic Bullet...biggest peice of shit ever....EVER...a 4-year old with a spoon can do a better job BUT they connect with you on a very specific level. they make a connection, they show YOU how YOU can do exactly what YOU always wanted to do with their product. Did you see how many different things Joe showed you how to do with just a peeler? Even if 10 of the 11 things he showed you dont apply to you, you are willing to pay $5 for a $0.10 peeler to save you a minute of your time once every 4 weeks.

That is why customer development is so important. You need to understand what your customer does and show them that you can make that part of their life easier. For enterprise software its the same, prove to a company that you can actually reduce or eliminate a pain point and BOOYA you have a sale and once you have sales, you get press when you get press you get more sales and the cycle continues until you exit gracefully.

This is terrible advice. Spending your life learning how to sell people crap that they don't need is wasting your life.

You should work hard to make a great product. If you don't know how to make a great product and don't have to patience to learn, go work for someone that does.

You don't buy them because they're cheap, you buy them because they're good and they work. The potato peeler IS a great product, and who doesn't need one?!?

I don't need one... I eat all my vegetables with the skin on. call me lazy but it's healthier that way too

Unless the skin is packed full of pesticides.

I sometimes eat potatoes with the skin on, too, but carrots?

And at some point in the video he mentions pineapples... surely you don't eat the skin of pineapples?

The ability to sell is getting the customer to choose YOUR product over alternatives.

There are very few products out there that we need and cannot be substituted.

I've got a perfectly sharp knife in my kitchen, but after watching the sales genius in the above video, I feel like I NEED to get one of his carrot peelers.

If your product is easily substituted then you should be spending time differentiating through value, not perception of value.

Tell that to the multi-billion dollar advertising industry.

Having the perception of value is THE necessary condition to selling your product.

Having actual value may create this perception of value, but this is not necessarily so. I've seen several products including a few startups here on this site that I KNOW have great value, due to my own close observation. But there are many potentials customers who don't immediately see this value after casual review, or don't know about it.

Reality is perception.

I'm not saying that it doesn't work. I'm saying that its one of the things about the human condition that needs to be fixed.

Case in point: http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/10_44/b42010963... "Being Steve Jobs' boss": Jobs from the perspective of John Sculley

Being able to produce a product is nice but it won't sell itself by merely existing. "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" If you release a product and no one knows will anyone buy it?

Or hire someone who does. Hiring salespeople or advertisement writers may be very necessary.

No, it might be wasting their life, but it's solid advice for the OP. It's been proven to work.

I'm terribly sorry, but not everyone's purpose is to make great products that help mankind. Some people just wanna get rich.

People that "just wanna get rich" are predators and parasites. They don't deserve any respect.

What about people who want to get rich so they can work on things that help mankind but can't easily (if at all) be monetized?

Now that's an over generalisation, just because your not concerned whether people actually need the product doesn't mean that you aren't doing your best to ensure your product is the best it can possibly be.

> Look at the Fortune 500, tell me what you see. I see grocery stores, drugstores, oil companies, banks, a funny little concern that sells sugar water. I see a whole lot of hard work and very few great ideas.

Perhaps this is a bit of an oversimplification? The reason those particular concerns are still on top is that they had plenty of great ideas in addition to execution. You don't stay a top oil company without kickass geophysicists, for example.

Thanks for sharing the clip of Joe Ades. I've seen a lot of street performers and people selling odds and ends here and there but few people have made me stop on my tracks, in the middle of the day, and made me an instant customer by buying a product that I didn't even have in mind when I set out. That is powerful.

exhaustedhacker, I feel for you, but since when is TechCrunch to bouncer or doorman to your success? No ones fortunes should be dependent on Michael Arrington. Instead of taking time to craft emails for him and his staff him, spend sometime crafting emails to targeted users. You said that you have had some success from meetups, do more of that, fight for every user. Give out a few free trial accounts to influencers, such as to folks here on YC. Reach out to other disrupters, Mashable, This Week in Startups, etc. If you don't have time to blog about your, you can contract folks for $10-20 a post.

Good luck, and thanks for sharing!

That's a great video, and I've seen similar performances by other street vendors. I suppose it's a case of "don't sell the bacon, sell the sizzle". He's delivering an enticing spectacle, of which the actual sale is just a small component and even the product itself is relatively incidental.

some people, bizarrely, wil say "yes, I will buy your piece of crap."

This needs restating, as it is THE moment when you have validated your business. Everything you do at first should be focused on selling your first piece of crap.

I notice that Joe isn't what we Brits would refer to as an English Gent in the UK. In England many, many market traders sound just like him.

He has a noticeable working class accent. The term "English Gent" usually assumes what the English call "upper middle class" or Americans call "upper class". Joe schtick worked because of Americans lack of familiarity with English culture.

Nevertheless moving his sales pitch to New York was master stroke. Like selling ice cream in the desert,

Where do I find the 'Joe Ades' of web apps?


37Signals have an ok product. What makes it truly successful is their incredible marketing machine. From highly popular blogs to podcasts, videocasts to books, super-optimised A/B tested websites to entire, hugely popular web development frameworks associated with them... they've got their marketing to a level that takes a decade of intelligence, opportunities and hard work to achieve.

On their front page:

"Basecamp is the top choice for entrepreneurs, freelancers, small businesses, and groups inside big organizations."

Total marketing. Says nothing about the product... but it connects if you're one of these types of people, making you feel like they must know something regardless of what the product even is.

Markus Frind

This is the heart of why every startup founder should learn Steve Blank's customer development.

Everyone should watch that video! Just submitted it: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1818819

Paying customer number one is what makes it a product.

True. But on this net....

"as long as you can't put the relevant link into the place where people go -- then you can't even begin to compete."

Read up on how TC traffic is not all it's cracked up to be. Stop caring about TechCrunch.

You are doing it backwards. Start with the market first. Your idea is only as good as it applies to the market it serves. You should not have spent 60k on a developer, you should have spent it leveraging a way to talk to your proposed customers.

Yes I agree, shit products get sold all day every day and rake in billions. But you see the product may be shit BECAUSE everything else is so much more important. The system, the sales force, the production line, the logistics, the tracking. I love Mcdonald's. Nah not their food, their system.

I know you are just venting and now may not be the best time to say "you are doing it wrong", but well, it actually is the best time.

You are doing it wrong. I know because I've done it wrong for a long time too! I actually am more of a programmer than a business guy but its kind of funny... "I want to run a business" kind of entails that we think more like business men and less like programmers.

Best of luck to you. STOP doing shit that doesn't work and doesn't matter.

I think the big thing that you're missing is that "great execution" doesn't end at building a great product. And PR is not a marketing strategy.

If you want to avoid this experience again, choose an idea that:

1) Has a broad-content SEO strategy (think StackOverflow and Yelp). New/valuable content gets created every day.

2) Has a channel for "buying" customers with economics that work. Plenty of people make adwords work. Plenty of others can afford salespeople. Find a market where people are succeeding at buying customers and compete in it.

3) Has a viral loop. Think Farmville or Groupon. Why is it in your customers best interest to evangelize your product? They can be motivated by psychology or $.

4) Create a "tribe". Read up on Seth Godin. Look at Joel Spolsky, 37Signals, etc. They sell good (NOT great) products because they've accumulated followers and evangelists.

It's not about a "great idea". Well, it can be. But look at all of the shitty products that are minting money! You can aim for a "addictive/amazing" product (and should), but it better be backed by sound customer acquisition economics for the (likely) case that your product is merely good.

About your launch day: You expect to blow it out on launch day? That's not a reasonable expectation. It's a marathon not a 100 yard dash.

edit: TechCrunch should not be a goal. At YC there's a word for the period after TechCrunch coverage... "The trough of despair". It's the period of time after TC where your traffic flatlines and you realize that TC isn't a springboard to anything-- it's just the first step (if you're lucky) on a really long slog to building a business.

Three of your four points are ways that his idea wasn't good enough, yet you conclude that it's not about a great idea.

How many acquisition channels has he investigated? Adwords is a pretty expensive one that only works for certain types of products. He tried that. What else? Hard to comment on his actual idea. Assuming he has competition, that means someone has figured out how to find customers in a scalable way.

Maybe his idea, with a 10 degree pivot, could be a viral/SEO sensation. I've no idea.

But certainly some ideas lend themselves better to cheap/free customer acquisition.

GREAT snippet from Patio11's blog (paraphrasing Seth Godin):

"Specifically, he says that the software business is undergoing radical changes because technical competence is no longer a scarce commodity: with open source tools, an increasing supply of trained programmers, and the explosion of cost-lowering innovations for creating and marketing software on the Internet, things which were previously the purview of a technical elite are now within what talented teenagers can cook up from their kitchen table."

A good web app is really only the "entrance fee" to the more challenging (and longer term) game of building a business.

Having just seen this it at work for a startup we helped launch, I strongly recommend (without giving too much away):

5) Makes sense for other companies to promote to their customers. Ideally ones with lots of customers.

Bonus points: your product fits in to their customer acquisition process (i.e. helps generate more revenue for them).

Triple bonus points: you have access to a large number of these companies through a small number of entry points. For instance a trade association or a friend that will introduce you.

You wouldn't believe how easy it is to get your product out there in the above situation. PR is the last thing you worry about.

I thought PR was in fact a marketing strategy. eBay did great with their (very smart) PR program.

I don't know, I've had this discussion a few times, about the differences between PR and marketing. Ppl at my company say they do 'PR' and 'because it's good PR' but I'm not interested in PR, I'm interested in sales. Marketing leads to sales, it leads people to learn about your product and to want to buy that product; PR just leads to people liking your company, which is only a small factor in the buying decision, and only after they've already decided they want to buy. But, and here's the rub, being in 'marketing' is not cool, it's full of negative connotations, it's hard and full of elbow grease; PR is about writing lofty prose from your well-lit corner office before going on a 2-hour lunch with some journalist. So 'doing PR' is something people want to do, 'doing marketing' not. (which makes that those who want to do marketing, and are not afraid of it, can make huge hits).

I thought the "by itself" was kinda implied, but what I meant was "PR is not, by itself, a marketing strategy". I can think of lots of examples of companies with great PR.

I'm no marketing expert, but you don't need to get on TC for your company to get traction.

I've tried in the past like you to get on TC and I was unsuccessful. The truth is I tried sending emails to all the "big name" blogs and nada.

I learned a different approach very quickly. I found that if you approach the "small" blogs, they're much more open to covering you. Then using that small amount of coverage as leverage, you approach more well known blogs.

Doing that, I managed to go from not hearing from TC in one week, to having the top story on Yahoo UK's homepage for an entire day the next.

It wasn't easy, it was a shit ton of emails that I wrote, all carefully crafted and targeted to each individual blogger I approached.

In a month the site went from idea, to launch, to 440k uniques (racking up 2.6 million pageviews) to being sold off for quite a tidy profit given it had a very short shelf life.


Anyway, my advice would be to not to give up, just change tactics and approach the smaller guys first, build a solid foundation and work your way from there.

Also, take my advice with a grain of salt as I mentioned I'm no marketing genius.

Let me echo the sentiments that TC isn't worth jack shit. I am at a startup now that has been slogging it out for 3 years, slowly meeting people in the industry, doing deals, and building traction with the product one day at a time. We've received a lot of press in various forms, the only ones that generated any lasting traffic were partnerships with big names. The general news coverage (blog and print) was pretty worthless, with TC ranking near the bottom. That might not be true for tech-centric products like Twitter where the service itself is disproportionately useful to tech bloggers like Arrington and Scoble, and thus they gush all over the product for months on end with utter disregard for the uselessness of the product outside their own niche, but it's true for most products. The bottom line is there are lots of ways to get the word out about your product, and media coverage is not anywhere near the best one.

The first thing you need to do is make your product compelling. There is a reason for all the talk about rapid iteration, minimum viable product, and the lean startup; creating a compelling product is hard. There is no formula for it, and customers are infuriatingly fickle. It's hard enough with established markets for things people really need (eg. food, toiletries, houses, cell phones), but when you're creating something brand new there's this huge hurdle to get people to understand how it fits into their life. There's no telling what will make something compelling, so you need to just put something out and iterate on it. Get 5 customers, get 10 customers. If these people find your product compelling and can give you real world feedback and evangelize the product, that is worth more than 50,000 visits from bored TCers who spend 5 minutes then jump to the next story.

I think the apparent contradiction or myth about the value of TC coverage comes from the following point. That TC coverage is probably good for having would-be investors find out about you. But TC coverage is probably nowhere near as good for having would-be customers find out about you. The average Joe does not follow TC. They watch CNN, Oprah, football games, etc. The tech hipnorati might follow -- even if a level or so indirectly removed from -- TC, but your neighbors, your mom, etc. do not.

From the "completely random advice" category: you should share how you're feeling with your wife. Optimism is good and healthy, but that's one of those partnerships that can be really helpful... if you let it.

I recently benefited from just that - I was debating applying to YC, decided not to due to our family situation (just bought a house, adopting one kid, fostering 2 others, own an annoying poodle) and my wife said "hey, you know what, give it a shot. We'll make it work".

Very good advice, probably the best one so far (not saying the other ones are bad).

"so after about a year of coding we still managed to pull off a nice and usable MVP"

"In just 8 months without any funding we went from zero to a beautiful system, signed up a couple of early customers by attending local meetups and events, and prepared for a Big Day."

That is your first and foremost problem. You cannot go into a cave and develop your product with no significant marketing or at least a soft launch. You're going to end up building the wrong thing (or even worse, find out the idea was crap all along).

You need to launch an MVP ASAP. And a lot of times, that MVP is only just a landing page (with no other functionality)! If you don't get any signups or excitement, that is reason to pause.

You need to launch an MVP ASAP. And a lot of times, that MVP is only just a landing page (with no other functionality)!

That's not an MVP, that's a Dry Test. There's a difference.

This may not work for you, but it may work for others: There's a joker in the pack that exists for those of us who don't have the capital (social or economic) to build a company simply off of an idea.

Open source your software, generalize it, and push it so that anyone can set it up. Make it easy to install, and make it do what it says it can do really well.

Sure, it's not the best way to get rich. I've been working on the open source social networking software, Appleseed, for about 6 years now, and it's been a massive effort with very little financial gain. But your measure of success can change, you can subvert the typical questions of press and fame and fortune that have come to define success, and see success in other ways.

And it's not perfect. I had been working on Appleseed for half a decade when Diaspora managed to raise $200k on the same idea by having the connections and press I couldn't get. But in the world of open source, there is still a level of meritocracy that you don't see in the start-up world: Either your software works, or it doesn't, and they may have had $200k, but I had 13 years of professional experience, and a 6 year head start, and when you're measured in code, hype can only get you so far.

You may even see your open source software put the fear of God into that mediocre LA competitor with all the press and venture capital, which just personally would make me feel better.

The one thing my father always said that I had to relearn with life experience is "it's not about what you know, it's about who you know". It's a very frustrating truism, but there are ways to sidestep it. It just requires some creativity and willingness to play outside of the rules.

And of course, you never know, if your open source software gains traction, you might find it easier to start a company from there, since you'll have gained respect, notoriety, and social connections from that work.

I don't know that they had connections so much as they had a hook. The hook was about a couple of students taking on the massive, evil facebook with open source software.

If you want press, think about your story and make it a good one.

My story is that I have software that works, how's that? :)

They definitely had connections, what with Eben Moglen of the EFF backing them, and them getting an article in the New York Times, that kind of thing doesn't happen without some kind of connections. A lot of that was probably just a result of being NYU students. I was working as a pizza delivery driver in Baltimore City (home of The Wire) when I started Appleseed, so I'm sure they have me one-upped in the social capital department.

At some point, a story may matter, but right now, I'm focusing on building the software out, and accomplishing what people are looking for. Appleseed has more features completed than they even have in their roadmap, it's way easier to install, it's extensible (a framework, not just an app), and I've got design documents and specs for the next year of development and beyond, including a mobile API, client-side apps, and distributed search (the holy grail of open social networking).

The great thing about open source is that the press can come later, I can take the time to focus on building the software first, and there isn't the same first-to-market requirement that startups have. I'm not necessarily trying to get users to sign up, I'm trying to get administrators to install it. And that requires a certain level of polish and feature-set.

Users don't have to care about Appleseed anymore than they care about what Joomla or Drupal is, so that's the advantage of being more mature than the competition.

Of course, at this point, I'm not really looking at Diaspora as my competition anyways, I'm looking towards Facebook.

You've been getting quite a bit of press, though, in the sense that when I think "distributed social networking" I think Appleseed instead of Diaspora (even though I didn't remember the name exactly, but, hey, that's what historious is for).

Keep up the good work, I firmly believe that a framework for distributed social apps will be the future. I would love something like Google Latitude but without Google getting my location, and then I could choose who to update and in what manner...

Nice, can you share a link to an instance of appleseed?


My impression is that a lot of comments are just restatements of the usual clichés: "get the first paying customer", "luck vs perseverance", "minimum viable product", "execution vs great ideas", etc.

As someone who has already asked this kind of question on HN, that type of cookie-cutter advice really isn't helpful at all (assuming you have been following HN for a while).

We need more specific, actionable advice. Here is mine:


Grab a copy of "The Four Steps to the Epiphany"[1] by Steven Blank and apply his methodology. It's broadly a "How-to" guide on discovering who your customers are, what they really want and how to make them buy. According to your story, it seems you are focusing too much on getting PR when you really should go out your office and talk with your customers directly (instead of via TC).

[1] http://www.amazon.com/Four-Steps-Epiphany-Steven-Blank/dp/09...

>As someone who has already asked this kind of question on HN, that type of cookie-cutter advice really isn't helpful at all

The problem, then, is that every time somebody is seeking this advice, they use a throw-away account and talk about their business in vague generalities.

It's impossible to give specific, actionable advice when you have no idea about the specifics of the problem.

Hmmm.... my business has always been in the same boat in terms of press, although we are a niche product and so grow essentially through word of mouth. That said... improving the product usually trumps getting an article written in the long run. And never spend more than 40 minutes writing an email.

My suggestions for AdSense would be to spend $500 at once rather than trickling the money out. This gives Google enough knowledge of your conversion rates that you can switch to pay-per-conversion. Bear in mind that you also have to be ruthless about excluding websites where you aren't going to get any conversions during your pay-per-click period. So track your spend daily and exclude-exclude-exclude sites that don't convert. I don't know if you've done this, but it basically halved our advertising costs and turned us from advertising at a loss into advertising more or less at cost (perhaps profitably assuming word of mouth, etc.).

Good luck!

This is off-topic, but here is a shout out from one of your customers! PopupChinese is great. I found out about it because AdsoTrans was the most handy pinyin conversion site that I've used for years. And I don't remember how I found about that one.

Thanks! :)

This is gread AdWords advice. I've only just started playing around with SEM (as opposed to SEO which I already have a pretty good handle on) and Google AdWords can be wayyyy to expensive for very few conversions if ur doin it rong.

Thanks for the tip!

[..] just start a blog. Nope, that's also not for you. Because blogging is a nearly full-time occupation, so don't expect to gain readership with that little precious time you have left from coding your product and working your day job. Successful blogs are written by well-funded competitors who don't have to code 18 hours a day and have capital to keep staff on payroll to blog/tweet/whatever and make as much attention-grabbing noise as possible.

True for you and many others but not a universal truth by a long shot. Blogging is far from a time consuming activity if you're both a reasonable writer and neck deep in the subject matter. Let's just take an example that sat on the front page of HN for most of today:


232 words. And as my own blog was on the front page a similar length of time today, I'm confident they got at least 2000 pageviews from that (I got 5000) and I know I've seen several posts of theirs do well here. Yet if you check their blog, they have several posts per month at most, none are very long or technical.

Other startups like SeatGeek and MailChimp nail the blogging in a similar way. There's no way they're not getting some serious exposure with them, yet it seems in most cases it's regular techs updating the blog and not some team of "noise" generating PR flacks.

It's a myth that you need to post all the time to a blog in order for the blog to be useful. I post to mine maybe once a month, maybe twice. I have virtually no subscribers, but I get a lot of visitors, to the site from it.

Small Blogs are about personal brand, long tail keywords and SEO benefits. I sometimes talk about products, sometimes post big ideas, sometimes post about failure.

My guess as to your problems would be lack of customer contact the whole way through. Without knowing the problem domain, if you're concentrating on getting 'industry' PR like TechCrunch, you're probably concentrating on the wrong people. Assuming there is some type of vertical you're targeting (travel, photography, vehicles, whatever) thenyou should be making moves in that part.

My final thoughts on the matter : it would never even occur to me to try and get TechCrunch coverage or anything like that. I would just be trying how to work out how to find customers that pay. If you've spent a fortune on google ads, then you should at least know what works as a click through and what hooks to start working around. It's either bad conversions or a bad product. PR coverage won't fix either of those.

I don't have any advice for you, but don't forget you did manage to launch a product, twice! To me that's amazing.

Sometimes I think that HN is too self-centered. The fact is that HN, Reddit, TC, et al. are places where geeks/nerds/hackers go to. I personally enjoy all of them, but unless my product focus on this market, I would never waste my time worrying about being covered in them. If you make bingo stuff (à la patio11), you should be trying to reach out to those customers and just forget about TC. Part of the "make-something-people-want" involves putting aside your own personal filters and prejudices.

Launch day smaunch day, its not a launch until you get the publicity you want. When TC ignores you, have another launch day. Unless your startup is aimed at startups the TC crowd is mostly people who want to spectate your success, not use your product. There will be a bunch of sites that do cater to people who would be interested in what you do (ie lifehacker for productivity etc) focus on those. Have another launch day with those sites, with HN and reddit.

If that doesn't work iterate and launch again.

The first thing that comes to mind is, did you do any customer development? http://www.startuplessonslearned.com/2008/11/what-is-custome...

In your story, I didn't see anything about sales efforts beyond "signed up a couple of early customers." Perhaps that was the missing link. It seems you relied on PR tactics, rather than finding, choosing, and closing customer deals one by one.

Hey man, that sucks. But you picked a great place to rant -- most of us have been in this boat before :-)

FWIW, word-of-mouth marketing usually feels like a total crapshoot. Topical, often trivial ideas seem to do the best. And honestly Techcrunch doesn't help as much as you may think. They're good for a spike of 5-10k users, but much more important is your willingness to support an unpopular product for another 6-12 months. Because it will be unpopular. :-p

You might not feel comfortable linking to your company here but I'd love to see what you're working on. I put my email address in my profile, maybe I can offer some feedback.

I think all you really need to do is solve an identified problem that the customer will pay for. The rest is just a matter of how big your business will get and how fast and that depends on market size, competition and execution.

To get early customers I like the domino theory that Clayton Christensen first described in his book Crossing the Chasm (assuming you have built a product that solves an actual, difficult to solve customer problem that is worth paying for):

1. Start with one (paying customer), that customer then; 2. Gives a testimonial that you can use to sell other similar customers and; 3. Actually provides you names (and sometimes even actual referrals) of other customers you can sell to.

As you build reference customers it gets easier to sell to other customers because now you start to get a rep as a must have in that particular industry.

Nowhere in your posting do I see anything about "we have X number of customers" or "we worked with X number of customers when developing our product". If you spent $60k plus your own time developing a product before showing it to any customers it's possible that there is no need for the product, and that more than anything may be why you are not getting the response you want from either investors, "journalists" or customers.

I know how this can happen, I've been there myself! (It seemed like a good idea when we started building it, how come nobody wants to buy?)

I think you covered all my personal fears about starting my own app.

[edit] Wait. You missed having yourself or your family getting sick. Or maybe you live someplace with socialized health care.

As someone who does live in a place with what you call socialized health care, I find it utterly bewildering that anyone would ever found a start-up starting from zero.

The cognitive dissonance of working on a silly web app while worrying about something as fundamental as my family's well-being in case of illness or accident: that would really, really tear me apart.

You mean without socialized health care? (although this really isn't a discussion worth having here :)

Oh yeah, let's leave it to the experts that are politicians and talking heads, right ? They're doing a GREAT job of discussing it rationally and improving the state-of-the-art knowledge about it.

What is it? If you don't tell anyone, nobody is going to know.

is there any link or such?

"Oh, about scalas, clojures and rubies - they really, really don't matter."

This is the only thing here I agree with.

TC is rather useless in the grand scheme of things. If not being able to get on TC is your marketing strategy then you need to rethink it.

Much of PR is about having the right connections. This doesn't mean you must have grabbed a beer with Arrington before but just having met and chatted briefly with a writer irl is helpful in getting PR

I agree with it, but I have to say:

If they don't matter and you like Scala or Clojure or Ruby and you enjoy writing code in that language and you get stuff done, over anything else, then at least there's no real reason not to.

So new mac book air yesterday. Today the MS phone launches. And VCs put up 250M for new social start ups and you're wondering why you didn't get any pub? I'd launch again tomorrow. Keep launching it until it catches on.

"Great execution" means business execution, not programming execution.

You don't need TechCrunch's permission to launch a successful company, which is basically just as difficult if you get it.

I would suggest that you take more of a look at yourself rather than at your business per se to try to figure out why this isn't clicking. You have to be the seed out of which the business grows. All that stuff "out there" needs to be the air and water and so forth where it can take root and grow, but it grows out of you. So maybe you are what you need to understand better.

Good luck.

I am curious as to why this got downvoted. Can anyone explain to me how this is a "bad comment" worthy of being downvoted? Why is understanding yourself better "bad advice"? (We have a member here who successfully started a bakery after figuring out why trying to be an entrepreneurial hacker wasn't working for him.)

Sign me: Baffled.

Often people go through the comments clicking up/down here and there. Yours had just 1 point so was easy to get to zero. I upvoted.

I think it was at negative 1 when I asked why it had been downvoted. Now it is at positive 2. Upvotes are nice but doesn't really answer my question.


If you aren't getting downvoted once in a while then you aren't contributing much ;) Feel good about it, someone thought your opinion was worth a downvote! Upvoted!

So does getting thrown off lists (or leaving in a huff as a preemptive strike) count for making me worthwhile? :-P

(Yeah, I'm having one of THOSE days.)

You'll have to excuse me, but screw techcrunch (or rather your idea of what techcrunch will do for you).

Your launch is not the be all and end all, it's the beginning of a long hard slog. Look at the likes of Bingo Card Creator and Balsamiq. Why would Bingo Card Creator belong on TechCrunch? Rather than focusing on one site, you need to work on a long term plan to raise profile within your target market. The last thing you want is a load of uninterested visitors looking for the thing between now and the next big thing. If you business is relevant to it and it's ready, the likes of TechCrunch will come to you. In the meantime focus on the niches within your target market.

For example, my company sells two things - Penetration Testing and Incident Response. We're very, very good at it, but not many people know about us in our target markets because we (some might say) foolishly were a little bashful about promoting ourselves. Some of that was a product of size and structure, but most of it was that we were taking the wrong approach. We've picked a niche (GCSX CoCo Health Checks - I know, interesting stuff right?) and have started marketing it offline and online. Have a look at http://www.mandalorian.com/services/penetration-testing/gcsx... - That's one A/B tested page for one niche (GCSX CoCo Testing) within a niche (Penetration Testing) within a niche (Information Security). We're a B2B consultancy so we tend not to do things like blogging (at least so far) as it has the potential to be a time sink. Instead we focus on winning business in a target sector or niche, which is what you should be doing.

Our campaign has an initial ramp period, sustained promotion for a reasonable period and then will enter a business as usual setup. Persistence and testing is what will get you the results your after, Not Michael Arrington.

I'm not sure when it happened but some time mid/late this year I realized TC, YC, funding etc .... none of it really matters. I've written the big blogs, been rejected from YC, had a couple nice investor guys tell me how imperative it is I have a cofounder.

None of that stuff dictates what is successful, and most of them are wrong most of the time for the negligible % of startups they touch. It'd be nice to have that coverage or that network or that money, but all that really matters is you, your product and your users/customers.

No wonder nobody noticed you...if your native language is not English, if your name sounds strange and if you are not living in US (read Silicon Valley) then good luck! Because you need a ton to get PR, investors and all that stuff.

Unfortunately, that's how it works and if somebody says it's not true they are not belonging in your category.

Off-topic but if you are not living in US get PR in your country ... Is it really that important for 'success' to be living in the US? I don't think so.

I just like to add a little contrasting experience, note our paths start out similar: - I left a (very) high paying consulting position - I'm not in the US - Coded up a great product & launched - Nothing happened, very little attention on blogs - Several very well funded US competitors appear, get lots of press - A year later I'm still adding features, starting to gain a little traction, but making barely enough to live off - Two years later, I'm making a lot of money and product is doing really well, representatives in 6 countries, triple digit growth

I think the main think I noticed was that OTHER startups getting funded was actually good for ME, since it validated the product and people started to google around for alternatives. They made the beginner mistakes I already passed. Only sales I did was $10 a day on adwords, just to get some traffic going.

So: don't give up too soon.

This reminds me of the location app war that's been going on for the last couple of years. All you would ever hear about on Techcrunch was Foursquare Foursquare Foursquare, but all along a little app called MyTown was blowing away Foursquare's numbers. Don't get caught up in the hype of TC and Silicon Valley.

>We applied to YC (rejected by email), studied "how to pitch to TC"

You can't count on a blessing from above. Those are venues for pitching to investors, not pitching to users. You gotta go ground up with forums, blogs, twitter, email.

Create quotas for yourself of the minimum number of people you talk to on each per day about your site. Signup for lots of forums, start posting in said forums. Seriously don't underestimate forums, they are still big because they are the ideal many-to-many venue of communication surrounding one topic. These are communities that are clearly labeled. You know instantly what kind of users are on there and how to cater your marketing to them. Although forums tend to be around more physical goods and concerns, if your application domain is productivity or something more abstract start hitting up bloggers non-stop.

My reaction is twofold.

First, and foremost, I feel with you. I (never stepped out of a "normal" job so far) admire all you guys that have the balls to try that, to risk your savings for something you consider a chance to move something big. There are quite some stories about failures here, but usually they are presented as "lessons". Your post, emotionally, seems to be more like a resignation.[1] That's why I want to wish you all the best.

The second reaction is kind of twisted/evil: I wonder if "I'm a solo founder, didn't go to Stanford, in my mid 30s" is enough to basically identify you to the right people - i.e. YC. I'm not even sure if that would be something you want (Trying to advertise for your idea once more) or not (Missing that fact while venting)..

1: English isn't my native tongue either, and text sucks for emotional conversations anyway. I might be wrong.

1. A mvp shouldn't take 8 months. You need to launch faster and you need to talk to your customers before, during and always. 2. TC doesn't matter much. I've received 2 posts and about 4000 visits for each post and only a handful of real users from those visits - you need a good product. 3. The initial idea doesn't matter that much. You probably won't start with the best idea. Iterate, iterate, iterate to the best product and idea.

It's not easy. Good luck!! Hope you stick with it.

Hang in there man.

What's touched upon in various ways in all the comments is that "PR" and "Media Coverage" is not the end all be all. In fact the successfully software startups I know STILL email individual potential customers on a daily basis.

I think one of the great myths of the internet is that you should just create a product, throw it up on the internet with some SEO and AdWords and the customers will come. Sure it might work for a few people, but by and large you are still growing a business. And you often grow a business one person at a time, hopefully later you can learn to scale sales.

Often what is missing from people's MVP's and business plans is how are you going to very specifically market to your target customers, and what the cost of customer acquisition is. If you can't identify a way to find your target customer, you're going to have a problem. Again, I don't think general SEO and SEM is going to work.

Don't give up on your idea, start emailing people. 50, 100 people a day. Convert them one at a time. If your business idea is not specifically just some sexy piece of technology, direct mail may work too (if you don't also have to educate people on why they need your product.)

Journalist want to write about what's hot, not about what is a potentially decent idea in a decent market. They want to talk about iphones, ipads, and facebook, and the latest jargon.

Anyways, start finding your target customers and email them. Don't worry about email campaign tools and crazy stuff, just starting email or calling them one at a time. Building a web based software business doesn't mean you can just skip sales.

I'm in the same position - and I think most people are - of "can't force my idea onto the market." Completing the entire product cycle seems to rank higher for me than "the idea" or "the execution," as it affords a chance to clear the slate, see the project's history in an honest light and use that to motivate the next strategy decision.

Each time I ship something, I'm discovering that I could have cut things down much further than I did and saved (months/weeks/days) of effort, and just wasn't ready to believe it in the planning stages.

Plus, moving fast gives me more opportunities to work on marketing skills and gain some real experience there. Project artifacts have zero real value until someone is using them, so the marketing effort is a way to mitigate risk, and shouldn't be an "oh my god did we get it right?" shuttle-launching kind of experience. If you feel like it's a shuttle launch, you may have taken on too much risk(for a web app).

You just sound like me. I had the best job. I am not in the valley. My first year in the woods saw me splitting with my co-founder, going into debt and not to mention that my first idea never took off. My current idea has seen 3 YC rejects, 2 TC50 reject, 2 year of me working on it alone and a very recent blasting on the YC. I wonder if my idea will give up on me first.

I disagree that me and you should give up. We have learned more from our failures that most entrepreneurs would have learned for their short-lasting success. It's time to introspect, write down a list of todos that will make your product better, talk to a bunch of users and see why they are hating your product and get back to coding.

You are just in mid-30s and you are going to live for atleast 50 more years. Hang in there for a decade.

Don't stop now!

Some of us have been there, and others are still there. Reading your post I imagine your start-ups were missing the key ingredient: Connections. It is likely that the well connected mediocre start-ups got press and funding because they knew people.

While there will always be the silver spoon fed types who really "know" people, you can go a long way networking and being social. Not social networking. Get off your machine and go to events, conferences, where-ever the action is and make friends with people who can help you, and presumably who you can help too.

I know it is really hard to shift focus from the product and socialize, especially as a single founder. You have grown so accustomed to the efficiency of the Internet that any offline PR or networking seems like a grand old waste of time. I am guilty of that too. But I realize that many entrepreneurs have a competitive advantage by virtue of their social connections. Whether it be in the form of an introduction to a venture capitalist at a party or lunch with a tech journalist.

So I suggest you don't throw in the towel just yet. You now have a product. And obviously a supportive wife after four years. Drop the code for awhile. Step back and reassess where you are focusing your energy to steer your company towards a brighter future. It is not an easy or short road to follow. But if you really want it, you will get there.

Check out Brian Pipa (Teenormous) on Mixergy about 35m20s into the interview... great example of persistence when dealing with competition (Gary Vee) who were getting big coverage on TC etc. PR coverage on these sites isn't the be all and end all. If your market isn't other tech people / very early adopters that kind of coverage is fairly irrelevant... http://mixergy.com/brian-pipa-teenormous-interview/

Something I have been thinking about is a quote from an old TV show something like:

"Though a tree that falls in a forest and is not heard makes no sound, still, it falls."

I would suggest you stop worrying about press and worry about reaching individuals users. Word of mouth and all that. For inspiration, you might read the story here behind this guy's business:


(I saw this on HN somewhere previously. Thanks to whomever posted it before me.)

I am very much doing the grass-roots thing for one of my projects. I get a lot of flack and relatively little positive response. I actively discourage people from heaping public praise upon me because it causes nothing but trouble. I am frequently discouraged. But the humble, reaching out to the people approach I am taking is gradually working whereas attention-mongering never did anything but backfire and alienate people. Whatever you are doing is unlikely to be as touchy a topic as what I am doing, so you probably don't need to bend over backwards to avoid "good press" when it does come. You may just need to look for other means to validate that you are getting somewhere. Press is not everything.

Good luck with this.

Now you've got me intrigued; is your first product still up and running? I'd love to see it if possible

As for TechCrunch, that seems brutal that they can hold you hostage like that

TC: only if you let them.

I'm just starting now. I'm glad you posted this. There's much survivor bias in the startup community.

It's not the sound but the silence that bothers me. Constantly wondering whether a lack of responses indicates that something is wrong (requiring a pivot), or that I haven't stayed the course long enough for my current strategy to pay off.

You wanted an audience, now you have one. Make something of it.

As I take it, he's already had an audience before. It's just that the audience didn't care much.

Although I'm a big fan of great ideas, in the grand scheme of things they don't really matter, not if you're trying to build a business.

What matters is customers, and you get customers because they know about you, and they learn about you through marketing.

To rephrase what you're emphasizing:

"Market the fuck out of your great idea"

Be everywhere, talk to everyone, always be selling. Don't be "viral", be invasive. Show up, pitch, and close. Get deals not by word of mouth, but by being there.

Make noise. Create spectacle. Generate exposure.

People forget that things like Twitter are not only products, but platforms that literally market themselves. Marketing is baked into their idea. Facebook went "viral" only because it capitalized on people's inherent narcissism. Most products don't have this luxury.

Always be promoting.

Too many companies have failed simply because they forgot to tell people about what they were doing.

In real estate, it's "location, location, location".

In VC it's "team, market, product".

In most cases people are happy to give you their reason why they think it's not such a great investment.

You might want to go back to people's reasons for rejection and make sure you took away the right lessons learned.

If there's some underlying oddball reason they're unable to articulate clearly, like you didn't pass due diligence because they have you confused with a mass murderer of the same name, or the reasons are otherwise it might help to work with an intermediary who is familiar with the VC process. Either your experience should put you in touch with possible mentors/board of advisors, or as a last resort you could give someone with a record of success a stake contingent on getting you over whatever hurdle is blocking you.

Hey, great job on your second product launch. I will put money on your turning a profit within 18 more product launches. Check out Gabriel Weinburg's: My history of (mostly failed) side projects and startups http://bit.ly/arW8lE

He's a perstent one :)

Building product != Building business

If you want to build a business, then you need a real plan for sales and marketing. Doing these well is just as hard as writing code. It takes a lot of careful thought, and it often takes money.

Even if you got your one-time appearance in TC, you'd find it wasn't enough. You need a sustainable strategy for acquiring customers. You need to calculate that the money you get from each customer is ultimately more than it costs to acquire them. Depending on your market, you may need a lot of money up-front to build a sustainable business.

These things don't take care of themselves. There's no simple one-time solution like showing up on TechCrunch. If you want a business, you have to build it.

"Good names"


Truth is your product probably didn't have a great "good name".

See starting at 5:18 in http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mzJmTCYmo9g -- that's about the subprime market. hilarious.

So, as the video demonstrates: no fucking great idea can challenge a really great "good name"

To make my point, let's put an example (me). Take a commodity idea. Say "a wiki". And then name it "SimplyWiki", or, adding some trickery, "SimpliWiki".

Now your get a great "good name" and it is the only thing that really matters.


Well... some persistence is good too, as mentioned before, so... keep trying and remember to have fun, it's easier to persist in doing fun things.

Print these two lines in large type and post them on wall you can see every day:

Your focus becomes your reality.

Never get in your own way.

So: What do you want your reality to be? Focus on it. Figure out how to get there. Never give up.

And, don't get in your own way by becoming your own worst enemy and defeating yourself mentally before your competitors.

I've made a lot of money over the years and have also lot is all to the point of going bankrupt twice (as in, having to file bankruptcy, rinso, everything gone). Still, I would not change any of it. Not one bit. Either this is in your bloodstream or it isn't.

Overnight success is a myth. You can read tons of articles on how companies took years of trying to reach the success and adulation that they now receive. In most cases it takes them years of sweat and persistence to become an overnight success. Of course there are the rare ones that hit it on the first go but that would be equivalent to winning the lottery versus having to work hard at making your millions. Don't give up now or ever and some day just maybe some day you will become that overnight success.

Dear ExhaustedHacker,

Sad to hear your story. But that how it is down here on earth. No one cares. Really.

You should forget about TC, YC and 'a big launch'. You should've just launched. Do whatever you can to let the world know about your product. I think HN is a good place, and proggit too. I know you did that once. But perhaps it's the third attempt is the one that's gonna make the difference. The second, if we are lucky (I said 'we', you are not alone :))

So launch. Have faith in yourself. Give it some time. I wish you very good luck.

Posts like these are just a waste of time. If you're not willing to provide the details so we actually know what company / product / service you're talking about how can we offer any credible advice?

Sure, it's easy to say "focus on the business" and "don't give up" but maybe what you're doing is a losing proposition from the beginning -- and maybe you SHOULD give up!

Who knows, maybe you should have given up before you ever started? It's hard to say without knowing any real facts ... :(

I'm not a "successful entrepreneur", but I have failed quite a bit.

Your biggest problem: taking eight months to "launch". If it's not sellable after a week, why spend eight months on it? You should start making money as soon as possible.

That means making the simplest, fastest-to-develop product and putting it out there. Don't change a thing until you have paying customers giving you feedback. If that day never comes, move on, and take your savings with you.

Sometimes (usually) it's all about marketing and getting your name out. Posting a link to your site here, there, everywhere (especially on a post about a product launch.) Talk to people about it, get feedback and build a community that gets emotionally attached to the product. You're done with the "hard" part, now it's all about increasing your luck by mingling and networking. Good luck!

This reminds me of two important things:

The #1 thing you need to do is find a way to sustain yourself and your energy through the long slog - Paul Graham's "How Not to Die"

The #2 thing you need to do is build relationships with customers and understand who's problem you're solving and how you're going to do it.

Figuring out how to make forward progress is easier than figuring out how not to give up and how to get anyone to give a shit.

"Have a fucking great idea"

Everybody thinks their idea is great. Even you thought your idea was great, right? You might be better off trying to growing your personal brand in addition to launching a company. If you have a name for yourself, it should be easier to get YC's and TC's attention.I'm sure if one of the famous HNers launched something, people would notice (and they have)


I am eager to find out which one.

It's time to white-label, or offer referrals my friend. Throw the marketers a bone. Put that fucker on Clickbank and CJ and offer 50% commissions. No one has to know you're white-labeling it; keep the customizable version off of your main brand, but don't write a LINE of code until you have someone willing to pay for a license.

how do you go about selling a white-label license if no one knows you're selling it? just curious

Cold calls to vendors in the same or similar space. Ads in trade publications. Take out a banner ad in the top 5 blogs for your vertical. Buy lists and send away.

Making yourself known to marketers is far easier than making yourself known to end users.

Hang in there! Don't stop now! So many startups fail because the founder(s) get burned out and quit early. Of the many success stories I have read, you always hear that they pushed through at the very end when they were feeling like it was a failure, and it became a success.

Sometimes success is just on the other side of the fail mountain.

That's the Silicon Valley bias. You hear about the successes but rarely the failures (which comprise the majority). The problem is that you can "keep trying" to the grave.

My best advice to everyone is start as early as you can to buy time :)

But that doesn't mean you should quit either.

If you build something truly good, it will get popular. I don't understand why you care so deeply about TC and YC. Simply telling your friends and get them to tell their friends and talk about it when you can should get you far if it truly is an awesome product.

Stop worrying about the press - watch the airbnb startup school video and listen t othe advice he was given: go to your customers, build the base from them.


Getting on TC and into YC involve people doing things for you. You're blaming your lack of motivation on them.

If you want to advertise, learn to advertise. If you cannot and will not learn to advertise, hire an expert to do it for you. Don't make hurdles into an excuse to fail.

1) Don't be afraid to attach your name to your startup. If you are embarrassed about your startup -- why should other people be interested in it?

2) Do not sacrifice other promotion opportunities for Tech Crunch. It kills startups that keep it in a stealth mode.

Great story... inspiring actually. I always thought I was the only one in your shoes.

ok, I am really depressed after reading this.

This is probably my favourite post & thread on HN to date. There's some great comments here, so I wont repeat stuff. But I would suggest hiring a PR agency. The right agency will get you a great ROI.

I learned one rule as bootstrapped entrepreneur: 30-30-30-10.

30% is product (programming - product must not suck), 30% is marketing, 30% is sales and 10% is luck (there is always some luck).

That is how it is. Yeah that is cliché.

And don't give up.

When I get killed by the funding game in Silicon Valley, I like to look to 37signals for inspiration. I, too, live in an area where it's much harder to get funded.

I also have a wife and a baby. And she feels my highs and lows as much as I do.

The excitement of a new idea and the let-downs when things don't explode into a fervour of web 2.0 money madness. But we do okay - I work from home and we have enough money to get by and we're pretty happy. That's enough! That's okay! You don't need to be a billionaire to be happy and doing okay! (Disclaimer: yes, I would like to be a billionaire :)

I've got a few ideas: whatwhere.com.au is a search engine that's going nowhere at the moment, smsmyride.com let's you TXT people by number plate, smscard.com.au lets you call overseas from your mobile phone, 8centsms.com let's you send SMS from the web and decalcms.com which is my YC app, is a fantastic content management system that is proving really hard to sell!! They mostly look crap - we're working on the design etc. and it's hard.

It takes a long time to get something right when you're funding it yourself. Working Software is self funded. We're not a design company - workingsoftware.com.au is my business - we do a lot of backend work so it's hard to pay for good design (although I've recently employed a design/html guy full time and we're working on improve our "brand").

But we do consulting and pay the bills (most months :) and gradually we're moving towards productisation.

And that's how 37 signals did it - and you know what? They've been around for TEN YEARS. And although they started getting some press pretty early on it's not like they've been the masters forever, they just kept working on it.

My advice to you is: sure it's good to apply for YC, sure it's good to have ideas and build things - but don't put all your eggs in one basket. Focus on what you can achieve for very little outlay, do that, see what happens, then change it and keep on keeping on.

Also - employ someone to work with you, or find a partner. It makes a world of difference when you're not doing it all alone. I have 2 full time employees now - 1 coder and 1 HTML/design guy, and a part-time book-keeper. I work with others in partnerships as much as I can. I'm very open to collaboration and always talking to people about my business and striking up relationships.

Just because you don't get funded DOESN'T MEAN THE END OF ANYTHING. You just need to work out a business model where you can pay for 2 days of innovation with 3 days of billable time, and that's how you get somewhere.

Sure, I applied to YC, I'd love to get funded. We could build things way faster that way. But if I don't get funded, hell it's just back to business as usual.

You don't need that boom and bust mentality - good things happen to those who work and wait, just as much as those that have meteoric rises to fame.

There are plenty of examples of admirable people who have received success early and late in their careers in ALL fields. Examples of people who have lost it all after being on the highest of highs, examples of people who work hard their entire lives and never see ANY recognition!!

All you can do is love what you do enough that, if it works it works, and if it doesn't it doesn't. Make sure you save some money, make sure you enjoy the ride, make sure you're working to a realistic schedule and that you set time limits on your hours and that sort of thing.

The way I see people talking about it on YC and vids etc. is: you get funded or you go get a job. That's not necessarily the case, so don't lose heart: you can make money and be happy without Silicon Valley funding :)

I just have one comment about your CMS. It looks very promising, but $999 is way too steep a price. You're really offering a free trial with a $999 setup cost? That is just plain wrong on so many levels.

Do you really think so?

I believe that many people would be willing to pay more...

Well with all the open source CMS's available and services like http://www.squarespace.com/ and http://www.lightcms.com/ on the SaaS side of the equation I just can't fathom to spend 1K. I mean even expression engine is cheaper at around 300 bucks.

There is definitely a market for DIY solutions - people can build a site themseles practically for free if they want. There is a market for prefab WP themes and the like at around 300 - deployed on shared hosting etc. There is a market for a 1k website where someone doesn't fit into those other 2 options. Believe it or not there is a market for 10k, 20k, 200k websites. We're always going to have a 1k website option but we plan to include cheaper options too. I think perhaps if you can't fathom someone spending more than 300 bucks on a website, you probably haven't spent very long deploying websites for people.

Are you sure you have been deploying websites for people for a long time? For starters, you're comparing a CMS system with Wordpress themes, which by the way can easily climb into the 3k ~ 6k ($300 dollar themes are generally mass produced and not favorable for brands and companies, regardless of how beautiful they might be) price range if done by an experienced renowned designer. Second, there is surely a market for the 1k, 10k, and 100k websites, I never said otherwise.

You seem to be equating a CMS to a website and that is just not the case. Original and unique Wordpress themes can cost thousands of dollars because they are generally custom made, original works of great designers. Websites/Web applications/Web services can cost ten, even hundreds (and beyond!), of thousands of dollars because not only the design is custom made, the development of the application and system to management it is also made to order. Let's not even get to the part of how expensive A/B testing and user experience architecture can get.

What you are advertising right now is that you will give a free trial for a year... hosted by you guys for free... for a $999 setup fee? If that is the setup fee alone what will the cost of the CMS be? I'll be honest, I'd have no problem paying you 1k, hell I'd have no problem paying you double or triple that a year for a hosted solution, provided it really is the next big thing since sliced bread and has really great support. From what I saw in your website and video, you'll be directly competing with Squarespace, which offers a lot of the same overall functionality and costs $480 at the top tier without a yearly plan (and seems like it has more features), though I do want to point out that I like yours better from what I saw in the video since it looks a lot more polished IMO.

I've been developing websites for ages and acting as sysadmin for longer even, so I kind of don't appreciate the patronizing, specially since I'm saying I like your product. In any case my advice is this: develop a scalable and sensible pricing structure that will fit your target audience, listen to what your potential customers (read everybody here) have to say, and for gods sakes if you're going to offer a free trial make it really free (and for a month or two, a year is just overkill for a cms)... People will gladly part of hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars a year if they like your service, but paying a thousand dollars to try a CMS out just doesn't make much sense.

Edit: Also you really need to spruce up the design of your CMS's website. It really takes away merit won by the video.

"$300 dollar themes are generally mass produced and not favorable for brands and companies, regardless of how beautiful they might be)"

Yeah I was only referring to prefab themes in that price bracket

"What you are advertising right now is that you will give a free trial for a year... hosted by you guys for free... for a $999 setup fee? If that is the setup fee alone what will the cost of the CMS be?"

Okay so this is obviously a problem with how I'm communicating the deal. I was really pitching this at people who have a website already, whether it has a CMS or not, we'll "Decalify" it for $999 and host it free for a year. After that, you pay for the hosting.

"I've been developing websites for ages and acting as sysadmin for longer even, so I kind of don't appreciate the patronizing, specially since I'm saying I like your product. In any case my advice is this: develop a scalable and sensible pricing structure that will fit your target audience, listen to what your potential customers (read everybody here) have to say, and for gods sakes if you're going to offer a free trial make it really free (and for a month or two, a year is just overkill for a cms)... People will gladly part of hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars a year if they like your service, but paying a thousand dollars to try a CMS out just doesn't make much sense. Edit: Also you really need to spruce up the design of your CMS's website. It really takes away merit won by the video"

I wasn't meaning to patronise you - I suppose I had assumed we were essentially talking about "the same thing" however I clearly didn't articulate what was involved very well. To be honest I assumed the type of viewer I was pitching that video/deal at at the time would be unable to make the distinction between "website" and "CMS" - ie. they just want to know what it costs

And yes the design sux :) That was basically something I threw up there to give this thing some presence and it worked to an extent - we got a few early adopters mostly through an extended network and having a video online was a big part of that.

The design and launch pricing structure is something we're currently working on - and it sounds like HN is going to be a great place to get some feedback so thanks!

Incidentally what is the etiquette on hijacking someone else's thread like this??

It wasn't so much a problem of a price. It't that you say the platform is free to try and the hosting is free for a year... but you pay 1k in setup up costs. Most companies willing to part with their money to get a good CMS will have a CTO that's going to look at you product and say "I like it! What free hosting? Free trial for a year? Where do I signup!?! Oh wait... 1k in setup fees? :@ :@ :@"

Offer the same thing for a month with no setup fee and you'll get a lot more customers (though I don't know if that's what you are looking for at this point... maybe you're waiting for more infrastructure before a big launch, I apologize if this is the deal and I'm getting ahead of myself) and can probably build some following through word of mouth alone.

In any case I like your product, looks really polished, and I hope you guys hit it big. Good luck!

haha yeah - well that's not our launch pricing - just something I threw up there in order to get a few bucks through the door (and it did) - watch this space ;)

Hi exhaustedhacker. Please shoot me an email, I'd like to talk to you.

No advice here either. Let me know if you want an outside product review though, email in sig. If you're product is awesome, you should be able to have it do well.

Easy answer to your frustration: you should try to code the project, that can be bootstrapped.

You know you're not doing your PR situation any favors by withholding your product's name.

But if he mentions his product then maybe people will just think he's trying to promote it and not take him as seriously in terms of giving advice.

If you're not paying for the service, you are the product, not the customer.

Well said. I feel your pain. Hope you feel better now. It's good to vent.

wow...from the heart.

So, uh, you're on the front page of HN now... Shy aren't you selling us on your thingy?

I'm super interested in the product now. No idea what it is. If for no other reason than to get an idea of what this guy's challenges are.

Could've been any number of sympathetic bloggers/writers on here who'd take this guy's project on as a story.

Cheer up, guy. Techcrunch front page doesn't guarantee success at all....remember that 90% of startups fail. So there's no possible way that all those startups Techcrunch reported on succeeded. From your story, it doesn't sound like you persisted with your first startup, which may be why it failed.

If your business requires TechCrunch noticing you to be successful, then its a bad idea for you, pick something else in your league.

col-de-sac should have been cul-de-sac

you see, I just made a HN-style comment. Draw your own conclusions.

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