In the meantime, perhaps console yourself this way: you haven't found the pitch that's opening investor wallets yet, and maybe that's a good thing. Maybe the pitch you're using isn't your best bet; maybe a "yes" at meeting 38 would have put you on a bad path.
My friends and I got a high-seven-figures "yes" in '99 that ultimately killed our company.
Meanwhile, Matasano went through exactly what you did in 2005; every company that found a "yes" got dead as a result. We're relieved to have dodged the funding trap.
Best of luck to you. You don't need gatekeeping investors to succeed.
Am I jealous of other companies' success? I would be lying if I said no.
Thank you for saying this. I've always wanted to, but feared I'd be called out for it. In public. In fact, I think it's part of what keeps the fire burning inside - that constant hunger to try and figure out why some folks are plain better / more successful at the game, and then trying and internalizing / applying those lessons.
And it can get frustrating when you can't replicate / emulate what others have achieved seemingly easily. As a corollary, this is probably why Jack Dorsey and Dennis Crowley are enigmas unto themselves.
An important aside: Chad, I'm someone who has tracked (and may I add envied) the Notifo story. And I admire the work you've done, from fanout.js, to snagging Paul for a co-founder, to HN for Android, to PicAFight, to GramFrame, to Vorepad........I've found myself in awe of how prolific you've been (and you don't even know me).
It's possible you've been doing one thing too many (because you love APIs and can't keep from tinkering with them). What I'm convinced of, is that you have the talent, the work ethic and an incredible co-founder. All the best, I'm hoping I have to transition back into pure envy real soon.
I was doing all that "one thing too many" stuff during the "crap, what are we gonna do now" phase where we weren't super productive and just played around with prototyping some ideas.
Not shipping anything made me feel terrible, so we spent some time making random side-projects to stay sharp. All of them were good learning exercises, too. I made sure that each project had some part of it that I didn't know how to do, so it would force me to learn new things.
I happened to navigate to Paul's article on fundraising, and further, to Alexis' one on keeping calm and carrying on (http://alexisohanian.com/keep-calm-carry-on-what-you-didnt-k...) and I was blown away. There's no way I could've survived something like that. You're in great company.
I'm looking forward to what you come up with. Here's to a great couple of years ahead.
If you're not ready to sacrifice everything you have, possibly including your health, then work on your project on the side. You really do have to be crazy to be an entrepreneur.
The positives: It's thickened my skin, I manage my finances better, I appreciate things more, I treat people better.
This reminds me why passion is so crucial when starting your own business. You will work crazy under conditions that most employees would see as unreasonable and there is a great risk that the business will fail. But as long as your doing it out of passion you can motivate yourself through the hard times and, if it doesn't work out, walk away with the satisfying feeling that you followed your dream and gave it all you got.
Would you say that your passion played an important part in managing your business?
This trap is something that is so easy to fall into and so painful to pull out of. My first startup had a 'star' VC fronting it, he loved the concept but didn't really understand that his vision was often in conflict with the founder's vision. That really hurt as the company was ripped too and fro trying to achieve a couple of really orthogonal goals.
Tom Lyon once told me that really it takes three startups before you 'get it'. One which is a somplete disaster, it helps you see what you did wrong and what can go wrong. One which isn't a complete disaster but exits sideways, which is to say you work at it day and night but when it exits you find yourself exactly where you were when you started. Then the third one where you know what to expect, you have a solid idea of what not to do and you keep laser focused on getting in, getting done, and getting it shipped.
It is very hard though, always.
And doubly so if you're married. If your spouse isn't on board and you've minimized the challenge, you're screwed.
However, there's good reason I am here in Silicon Valley. Athens at the time of Pericles and Socrates wasn't a great place to live either, far worse than Silicon Valley. Same goes late Republican and early imperial Rome, Tang dynasty Xi'an, Florence and Venice during the Renaissance, Victorian London, etc... On the other hand, people willingly sacrificed their standard of living and prestige to live in these cities and and pursue activities they found meaningful. Being a big fish in a small, provincial ponds sucks: if you want to grow intellectually or professionally, you should be around smart and ambitious people.
To be fair, there are pockets of talent elsewhere (New York, Seattle) but they're generally rather insular: a lot of the places tend to be a combination of a revolving door for some (people joining and leaving in 18 months, very frequently moving to Silicon Valley) and a life long commitment for others (lifetime "softies" at Microsoft). While exceptional talent does exist in many place outside of Silicon Valley, the stories of people joining a company, staying long enough to make a significant impact and then applying their lessons elsewhere (e.g., the "Fairchildren", "Paypal Mafia", Xooglers) are not as common in less-fluid engineering job markets.
I think that Silicon Valley in the late 2000s and early 2010s is that place. Particularly centered around the offices of Google, FaceBook, Twitter, and YCombinator. There's an energy here, a thrill of discovery, that's just missing in most other places in the world. It's enough to make me overlook that the city is basically suburban sprawl, public transportation sucks a lot more than Boston/NYC/DC, the quality of life is honestly not that high, there's little sense of history (only of history being made), and everybody wants to get rich quickly.
I don't think I'd want to settle in Silicon Valley. But when my grandkids ask questions about the birth of the Internet age, I want to say I was there.
I am sure we will not know if we made the right choice, for a long time. But I dont buy in to the belief that unless you are in the Valley, no one will give a damn (as touted by Vivek Wadhwa a few weeks ago).
EDIT: Needed to add a couple more thoughts that came out of the responses my post received.
a) Its really hard to find talent in SF - Right now, we are one non-tech founder and two hackers. And finding android or iOS talent in Richmond is like looking for needles. But I believe that if you find a darn good hacker, then a new tool or language is just a speedbump. We are still trying to find a very good UX designer though.
b) I agree with the Valley vibe. But it sounds more of a Goldrush than anything else. And I also agree with the vibrant support system that the Valley can provide. Right now, I get that through HN, blogs and my peers over email and phone.
There are three problems to the Bay Area:
1. Massive competition for engineering talent. It's probably harder to hire 20 brilliant engineers in SF than in any other major city in North America.
2. Cost. Our burn is increasing by 20%-30% because we're moving.
3. Echo chamber. Ideas tend to get reinforced here. This is often good or neutral; SV will sometimes recognize the significance of something before the rest of the country will. (There are a lot of people who still think Facebook and Twitter are hype and will go bankrupt soon.) But I imagine that there are ideas that make sense in SV that are ultimately bad ideas. And there are ideas that wouldn't resonate in SV that are probably huge opportunities.
This is a little off-topic from the original article, which is fantastic. But circling back: startups are hard, and moving to SV isn't a panacea. It may help a little, but do it with eyes open - because you want to commit to the startup life, and SV is a good place to do that.
Good luck though. You are much better positioned due to the YC framework and which should open doors far more easily than to a couple of outliers like us.
It ain't fair but that's how it is.
In you go to SF with your pet project which has no traction and revenue, it will suddenly have traction and revenue. Don't ask me how. It isn't exactly logical. Things happen. You'll meet people who'll tell you if only you change this feature and add that feature and do this and not that you'll have a saleable proposition. So you'll say what the hell and give it a shot and soon it becomes so! Its just not rational, and as a coder and mathematician I hate irrationality just as much as you. But that's how it is.
Whereas with no such brutal feedback, you can labor away at some precious project until it becomes larger than life and super-brittle and soon even you don't want to touch it cause who knows which module will break which other module, and then you go looking for customers and nobody really wants it cause its gotten way too complex for anybody to decipher.
I've heard ideas that are so lame ( an app that counts ONE TWO THREE while you do pushups. Really! Yeah, that's got funding to the tune of a couple mil! ) your 3 year old could have come up with it. So its not the traction, framework, revenue model etc. Its just finetuning an idea to the point where it becomes saleable. And for whatever reason, perhaps because its in their DNA, SV seems to have the sort of people who actually give you a listen and then tell you exactly how to go about it. They actually give a damn! If you have an idea, I think you should atleast spend 1-2 weeks in SV trying to pitch before writing it off as a futile exercise. Nothing to lose, everything to gain.
However, if what I have is a piss poor idea that has not won over customers, has no traction or revenue, then I dont think thats a problem a million dollar can solve. It will just be someone else's money that I will end up losing over a terrible idea. I would rather fail with this idea where I am now, than work on it (with someone else's money) for the next year and then still fail.
The Valley entices everyone to go there. I both drank the koolaid in 99 and ran for cover in the wake of the dotcom crash. Entrepreneurs who persevered were the ones who coupled the right ideas with a sense of commitment bordering on the insane. Thats what I want to emulate. That, to me is more tangible than a million dollars.
Except you benefit from talking to people with deep experience. When someone here tells you "have you tried putting this button on that page?", it's because they did it and it doubled your traffic. Experience of what works and what doesn't circulates so much faster in Silicon Valley.
Why would you want to be disconnected from the flow of ideas? If you think online forums are a substitute, they are, but with a time delay.
Customers generally don't mind if you're not in the valley (although it is true that if your product is built for tech oriented people the bay area may be a high customer saturation zone.)
So why am I back to the midwest ? Well, I'm not running a startup myself, atleast not yet :) And when it comes time to do so, I'll rush over there myself.
I guess this is what it was like in the 1960s in Greenwich village in NYC, or Berkeley CA or Woodstock or whereever else. Its just quite surreal & I still haven't gotten over it.
It is good to be optimistic, but I'd hate for people to get this impression that the streets are paved with gold and make some really poor decisions.
> And a third chap was going on and on about some series A series C thingy.
Ok, this has to be a subtle troll...
As for the "Somebodies", it's not all about past success; there is a lot of luck and flair to it. There are, in any human culture, people who are utterly worthless but can make the magic happen. They don't know much technically, but they're great at using the herd mentality and certain exploitable vulnerabilities in weak minds in order to make other people like them, so getting funding and press comes easily to them. When they actually have to build a product and a team and a company, they're screwed, and they tend to flame out catastrophically. Whereas the people who actually work hard and have real capability will have slower paths to success but, when they get there, they'll be able to stay where they are because they've actually earned it.
It's not unheard of that I'll be hanging out at a cafe in Palo Alto and run into other entrepreneurs I've met before.
I went to a talk at the CS dept at Berkeley and ran into a direct competitor (who actually had my app installed on his phone). Had a great convo with him.
I've also had people come up to me who are in similar spaces who propose a possible collaboration.
Execution is important.
But I think many people have the skills to create what ends up being successful.
Take Groupon for example. It made something a lot of people wanted. Could most people on Hacker News have made it? Sure.
But Groupon created it before anyone else (I might be wrong about this?).
Another example is HN. Pg has said that what he thinks users want most are quality articles and discussion.
While it's "just a forum", I think Pg is right for not adding a lot of features, or spending the limited time he has working on the UI, and instead focusing on how people can discover quality articles and make/read quality comments.
"Make something people want." It's simple, but it sure isn't easy.
Group buying has been done many, many times before, going back to the bubble. Many millions of dollars were burned to little avail. What Groupon actually nailed was all the hard parts of the business model that don't look really freaking difficult on the napkin -- particularly "signing up local merchants" and "cost-effective customer acquisition."
That second one is relevant for virtually all businesses and gets disproportionately short shrift here.
I may be misunderstanding what you're saying, but signing up local merchants doesn't seem all that hard. There seem to be many Groupon clones that have produced deals with merchants.
The main problem for the clones is not having Groupon's scale/distribution.
I think what Groupon got right was the simplicity of its offering.
One page that clearly explains what you're getting, at at least 50% off.
When looking at an offering, I see a picture, a short and sometimes funny/interesting description of the offering, short crisp bullet points about restrictions, how many people have bought it, how much time is left, and contact info -- specifically where the place is located.
That's really easy to understand. The user can vote yes or no in a minute or two.
Great reminder patio11
I believe HN's plain design is actually an intended feature, not a bug. From one of PG's essays:
So the most important thing a community site can do is attract the kind of people it wants. A site trying to be as big as possible wants to attract everyone. But a site aiming at a particular subset of users has to attract just those—and just as importantly, repel everyone else. I've made a conscious effort to do this on HN. The graphic design is as plain as possible, and the site rules discourage dramatic link titles.
I agree. Though I've read several comments that suggest adding to it, and in general, I think doing that would make it less useful.
Looking at the stats, and hanging out on HN for a while, it occurs to me that having a successful startup might be the coolest thing you do in your life business-wise. A zillion guys kick ass on a startup after college, only to hang around the community for decades afterwards, looking to write a check, trying to get back in on the action. As rare as profitable startups are, repeat entrepreneurs are even rarer. Maybe you're that one-in-ten-million guy. Probably not.
So if it takes 20 years, I wouldn't sweat it. If there's one thing I've learned to believe in, it's that everything in startups takes a lot longer and is a lot harder than you think it is. So even when you imagine this really tough and difficult journey lasting for years, it's probably going to be worse than that.
I'm not saying that to encourage you to give up, I just wouldn't spend a second of my time waiting for the calvary to arrive, because they aren't.
Never a truer word spoken.
I turned down the offer, but for reasons unrelated to my side project. Still I feel like my project/startup is floating in the Sargasso Sea. If you think getting funding in the Bay Area is hard, move to Atlanta. There's a reason Stammy is out there.
And you can't be too much of a Nobody if you can get into YC twice. I wish team Notifo (or whatever your next project is) all the best.
Indeed. You now at least you know a Somebody or two. Many folks don't get that far.
A misquote from the article (my perspective):
> Am I jealous of other companies' success? I would be lying if I said no. I am slightly jealous when I wake up and read another story about some company getting into YC when I didn't even get an interview.
I'd also be lying if I wasn't genuinely happy for every company that gets any sort of success, because I'm now getting a taste for how hard it really is.
Brilliant post, Chad. Many thanks.
We certainly went through all of that at Jamglue. It's absolutely true that being a founder, especially the fundraising part, requires a really thick skin.
Each time I think about doing another startup, I start having flashbacks to broken termsheets, bullshit EBITDA projections, and VC's telling us that they could introduce us to Quincy Jones (I swear, at least 7 different people told us this). When we came out of our fundraising stint (penniless), we realized that our product had suffered and we were completely broken people.
The ability to be self-aware about the emotional roller-coaster is invaluable, and essential to forward progress. Thanks for this honest account so that others can make some sense about what they are feeling.
My advice to you would be to define your threshold of success as something you can control. Focus on your surroundings. Get one client and satisfy him. Don't do it for money but for the pleasure of having an impact on somebody else. You can be your first client too; in fact, that's what we did when we built Spottiness: it's for us, we do what we can, we are nobodies and we don't care.
However, I would change your attitude a little bit. In your post you seem to focus on your sacrifices and being jealous of other successes. Well, when I see that Color and other startups raise a ton of money, I get SUPER excited! Why? Because if they can do it, I can do it too!
As far as sacrifices go, realize that you are still better than 90% of the entire world. Being grateful for things that we have is a force multiplier. I am grateful for what I have and having the opportunity to build a company in Silicon Valley is a life long dream come true. Dreams are bigger than sacrifices. If you believe in yourself, you believe in your product, your customers will believe in you and your investors will too.
Good luck. And enjoy the journey, in the end life is just a game (whether you are a doctor, investment banker or entrepreneur, we all have finite amount of time on this planet).
The best indication that people should invest in you is that you don't need them to invest in you at all.
Edit: I'm curious - why the downvote?
I've also had "Startup depression" where I didn't sleep for 1 week and was totally unproductive for a grand total of 2-3 weeks. Ever since then I stopped recommending doing startups to my friends.
We've also experienced the "You're Nobody until you're Somebody problem." The work-around we're trying right now is to bring a (non-technical) "Somebody" onboard as a partner/founder, who is also, unlike us, located in the US where our market is.
Location has also come up in this thread. Early on I thought that thanks to the Internet location matters "less". Not true. You have to be where your investors/customers are. Deals require massive face time.
In school, you just gotta do what the teacher tells you to do, and you get an 'A'. You get a job and you just gotta be able to do what your boss wants you to do. Startups require you to find your own nitch, and do something different. No one is telling you what to do.
So, you can work real hard and work like before, but end up pursuing an empty hole. However, is this really harder?
- they're 80% luck and 20% skill
- but the people who have been successful work hard to promote the idea (which they also generally believe) that they're 20% luck and 80% skill.
Strange and pathetic as it may sound to my non-startup friends, I couldn't agree more on the point of having a support group. Everyday there are things pushing my limit, and if not for my friends, I would have gone crazy by now.
And with regards to Nobody / Somebody.... this post, might get you closer than you think to Somebody ;)
Good luck! You have the right product. Think what's missing...and is it really money?
I"m so glad that your plan to go thru YC again worked out. Beer time! I so believe in you two and can't wait to see what comes out.
Yes, there are plenty of positives to focus on, and that is what we are doing. It doesn't mean that there aren't still struggles.
When reading this post, though, I was just a little nonplussed at why you were telling me how hard it all is when it seems as though you're going pretty well.
All the best with your YC Summer 2011!
For what's it worth - Tim Westergren of Pandora pitched 300+ VCs before he raised money for series A. More on it: http://www.businessinsider.com/pandora-300-vc-rejections-201...
Its winning the lottery that is hard, and only because you make it hard on yourself for that big prize.
What about being your own boss? What about learning & producing at 10 times the rate you would at a desk job?
Also, I think you'll find there are plenty of "Nobodys" with past successes. Don't do it for the fame.
I wish you good luck with with your startup. Actually I wish all startups having difficulty raising the next round good luck.
An inspiring poem shared by my friend. Was read out by Winston Churchill at the beginning of Second World War.
SAY not the struggle naught availeth,
The labour and the wounds are vain,
The enemy faints not, nor faileth,
And as things have been they remain.
If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;
It may be, in yon smoke conceal'd,
Your comrades chase e'en now the fliers,
And, but for you, possess the field.
For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,
Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back, through creeks and inlets making,
Comes silent, flooding in, the main.
And not by eastern windows only,
When daylight comes, comes in the light;
In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly!
But westward, look, the land is bright!
Here is the paraphrase shared by the friend:
Don’t say that the long struggle [against tyranny and injustice] is of no avail;
don’t say that all your efforts, and all the injuries you’ve sustained, were in vain.
Don’t say that the enemy’s just as strong as ever;
and don’t say that nothing’s changed for the better!
If the things you hoped for haven’t happened, well, maybe the things you’re scared of won’t happen either.
Perhaps over there on the battlefield, now obscured by smoke,
your comrades are chasing the enemy away,
and all they need to ensure victory is that you go and join them.
Look! Those waves don’t seem to be making much headway,
even though the tide’s supposedly coming in.
But far behind you, unseen creeks and inlets are swelling with incoming waters:
the sea really is on the move after all!
Look! The eastern window you’re sitting at
isn’t the only place affected by sunrise;
from there, yes, it’s true, the sun hardly seems to moving up the sky at all—
but cross the room and look through a westward-facing casement: see how the whole landscape’s already flooded with light!
Clough had just personally witnessed how Garibaldi's brave attempt to help preserve a new Roman Republic had been foiled when the forces of reaction (led, ironically enough, by the French) had successfully brought the Siege of Rome to an end in 1848. He was trying to cheer up fellow-supporters of reform and of independence for Italy. They were all feeling pretty downhearted. That's the historical context.
I would take the mobile notification technology and pivot to notifying about something people care about, like people in the vicinity with similar interests.
I'm sorry you thought it was such a terrible idea. It's hard to hear that coming from someone I have respected for a while and followed along with your successes with AR and CP.
The social consequences to my statement make me think of pandas and lobsters -
and I was eager to hear responses to my comment - perhaps related:
btw I've been rejected by YCombinator multiple times
I thought it was overly harsh and missed the entire point of the post. The article was titled "Startups are Hard" not "Ask HN: Please review my app" I greatly appreciated the honest reflection on how hard it is to start something. It mirrored many of my own experiences and provided a valuable counter example to the standard "Oooh, I fell out of bed into a pile of money" startup story that's usually tossed around.
Regardless of the value of Notifo or any particular case, startups (hell, all businesses) are hard and having people tell you your idea sucks doesn't really help all that much. Sucky ideas sometimes do extremely well (ie. Facebook, Twitter, and many more), and great ideas sometimes do terribly (ie. tons of shit we've never heard of because they're all dead).
People doing startups need encouragement. They may need to be warned that this isn't easy, but they really don't need moans.
Yes, the article is not too positive, because the author is not at a great point. But it's far from a moan.
Also, some people doing startups do need encouragement, but some others need to be told that what they are doing is not valuable and they had better change course or go back home.
I went into this whole thing being pretty naive about a lot of the process, so I wanted to relate some of the things I've learned along the way.
I'm not looking for pity.