|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.