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I bootstrapped a $10 million company and need serious help
189 points by benjaminlotan on July 13, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 84 comments
Two years ago I started Social Print Studio as a little design company. We have been able to make a name for ourselves in the world of photo printing. We have many repeat customers, some large corporate clients, and growing six-figure monthly revenues. Things are going well and we have a strategy to compete directly with major players the field and really take the company to the next level. Problem is that we turn down massive opportunities everyday and executing our strategy has been a huge problem due to our lack of technical and managerial skills.

We are just a group of friends who got in over our heads. We have no network and are having trouble scaling. We are looking for a CTO or solid lead web engineer, someone with solid marketing experience, and maybe even a new CEO. We want to grow this thing huge, are ready to make bold moves, and we want to have the right experience on the team so we can do things right. Craigslist recruiting is not cutting it.

This is our cry for help. If you want to come work with us to build and grow the company 10-100x in the next couple years... Whether you are an engineer, designer, marketeer, or know someone who is... please get in touch. Now is the time, we have some amazing opportunities and really want to push amazing work.

please get in touch directly: Ben@socialprintstudio.com @benjaminlotan on twitter

ps. we are in San Francisco.

Be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. You're probably doing a better job than you realize.

Try working with an executive coach - I work with Bryan Franklin. It's easier for you to develop leadership and management skills than it is for an outsider to really grok your business and share your vision.

Regarding the marketing role, be sure to get the right kind of marketer: https://medium.com/on-startups/1308a8f17137

Most of all: go slow on executive hires. There are a lot of "good talkers" out there. An empty seat is better than the wrong person.

An empty seat is better than the wrong person.

This. So very, very much this.

A bad hire at the executive level won't merely slow you down. You might lose ground, or possibly even crash and burn. I've seen it happen, and I'm sure I'm not the only person here who can say that.

"An empty seat is better than the wrong person."

Perhaps at the executive level, but I'm not sure I agree with this as a general hiring strategy. This mentality might go pretty far to explain why there are so many companies that claim they can't seem to find enough talent, while un(der)employment is still high.

Companies interview and interview, but are petrified of hiring "the wrong person" so they just keep on interviewing fruitlessly.

The wrong person doesn't just produce less value than the right person, they can actively create negative value.

They can do shoddy work that negatively impacts the ability of other employees to do work, they can cause reputational damage to the company if they're public-facing, they can create a toxic work culture that disincentives other employees.

This is a tough one. The thing is that for small companies, bad hires can be disastrous for any position key to the company's execution.

For instance, hiring a bad dev can be very costly. There is all of the time/work required to find, onboard and provide knowledge transfer, the real expense associated with the employee (i.e. compensation), and the fact that it generally takes time to determine it's not working. In that time the product hasn't moved forward as it could have and the company is out of a lot of time and money. And, frequently, it is the principals who are taking time away from building and running the company in order to try to hire/train. So, it's an even bigger disruption to the company.

For, say, a bootstraped company that has a small dev team (or the founders are the only dev) and not a LOT of money, this can be really painful or game ending. There is a real choice to be made between rolling the dice that you'll find good talent, or pushing forward at a slower pace, but without the disruption of hiring/training and without the additional expense.

It's the equivalent of old school investing; sit on the money until a really really good investment comes along; in the mean time you miss lots of good opportunities because you don't have a good framework for managing risk. Angel investing changed all that. Maybe there should be a greater move to angel employing; a small commitment up front until traction is proved.

"An empty seat is better than the wrong person."

This is great advice that can apply to much in life.

Exactly. Your revenue is a proof of your entrepreneurial skills and that's an asset worth exploiting :) Before considering the new CEO stop for the moment and think about the challenges your company is about to face (both right now as well as in a following year). Then analyze what exactly do you need to cope with each of them. I bet sometimes you'll need just an encouraging advice, sometimes filling the competence gaps with some learning and probably most of the time it'll be coaching (your post below about decisions that seem to be bad suggests that you might be in that phase of your development). Sure, transitioning to the managerial role isn't a piece of cake but also it isn't that hard if you really commit yourself to the work on own develoopment. For the beginning, you may find this post http://www.azarask.in/blog/post/psychological-pitfalls-and-l... inspiring, as you're a designer too I guess. Good luck!

Bringing in a "good talker" with exciting-sounding business ideas and great-looking credentials, then trusting him to run the show - often in ways against my better judgment - killed one of my businesses and nearly killed another. I had to wrest back control of that one, spent a lot of money on a legal fight against this individual, and slowly rebuild what was lost to save it.

In fact, if you're going to bring anyone in, bring in someone who tells you he needs time to get to know your business and work with you closely before he tries to start making any big changes. The guy who wants to jump into action on Day 1 is often someone who's going to have you quit dancing with the date who brought you to the dance to start chasing after bright shiny objects - many of which end up only being fool's gold - instead.

sound advice, thanks a bunch. i just threw the executive titles out there since i think that's where they would ideally lead to, and i don't exactly know how to speak to the people we are looking for to help us. I will read the medium post you linked now! if you are ever in the bay area, hit me up, id love to meet for coffee.

Just to add to the general chorus, what you really want are good consultants (or coaches, depending on your vernacular) for the specific problems you're facing. Crossing your fingers and letting a new CTO or CEO figure out the big picture for you is attractive, sure, but the risks are too high.

After you've filled in the blanks, you'll feel much more comfortable, and at that point make some hires to deal with those specific business areas, while still maintaining overall control. As others have said, you guys are doing something right or you wouldn't be in this position in the first place.

If I was over in SF, I'd love to help you out, but I'm based in Sydney.

Anyway, best of luck to you.

I think Paul's advice is sound... get consultants/coaches, but keep the leadership !!

I don't have a company myself, but some people I know who do have had a lot of success linking up with the local university's Business programs (MBAs, or in my case a Master's in Management of Technology)... many professors have consultancy businesses on the side, and you can also draw on the students' abilities - for example, as a student, I got assigned to a 2M/year company, they gave us insider access and, with the teachers' guidance, we gave them a free consultancy.

I also recommend a Master's in Management (MOT or an MBA), running a company yourself you'll get a lot of value out of it. I see many California universities offer one (MOT or similar), maybe there's a graduate here on Hacker News who can recommend one.

Going with the "get good consultants/coaches" - if the coaches/consultants are good, and a good fit, then see if you can bring them on board.

Traditional "interview and put in place" hiring strategies are built around the needs of traditional large organisations with massive amounts of existing organisational momentum and plenty of time to recover from mistakes or retrain duff hires.

Small fast-moving companies don't have those advantages, and shouldn't hire that way. You're obviously innovative - don't forget to apply that creativity to your business processes.

> You're probably doing a better job than you realize.

He is. Zero to $10mm is no small feat. He needs to hire a COO, not step down as CEO. The founder is almost always the best person to run the company.

> There are a lot of "good talkers" out there.

Beware the articulate incompetent ;-)

Just finishing up Stranger in a strange land and I'm so surprised to see 'grok' on this context. I don't think I've ever seen the word before in my life. Pretty awesome.

One of my civil engineering friends said something similar the other day when I used "grok" in a conversation, and I was somewhat surprised because programmers have been using it in conversation for years (http://www.catb.org/jargon/html/G/grok.html). Evidently grok still has some pervading to do.

I use it for when I completely understand a skill. On the continuum from unconscious incompetence -> conscious incompetence -> conscious competence -> unconscious competence I see it as the last step.

I'm surprised, it comes up frequently among programmers, and I know not all of them could have read that wonderful book.

I encountered it in the Jargon file first, and that was part of what prompted me to read Stranger in a Strange Land.

Ditto. I first encountered "grok" in the early 1990s. I read Stranger in a Strange Land for the first time this year.

That's a great article.

Each of the three startups I worked for as one of the first 10 employees were ruined when the 'seasoned pros' were brought in. Don't hire any C level or VP people. There is a class of losers in the Bay Area who bounce around between VP of Engineering/Ops/Product jobs at post-funded startups and sink the ship while using their inflated salaries to redo their deck in Los Gatos. Hire additional engineers / marketers / finance / designers as needed and promote from within (as needed).

i'm running a $2 million and growing company, and i can say that if you're doing $10 million dollars in 2 years (TWO YEARS) and think you have a "lack of technical and managerial skills" you are being intellectually dishonest with yourself, and possibly being disingenuous to your audience here.

from what we've seen and what we've heard, basically starting at $1 million/year in revenues, you will hit a serious new set of problems (some call these inflection points) at every doubling thereafter (i.e., 2M, 4M, 8M, 16M)

obviously there are exceptions (some businesses are simply born to be able to handle massive amounts of revenue in a flat manner) but basically, every time a business doubles, the problems change. this doesn't mean you're incompetent, or that you lack skills.

I agree that obviously they're doing a lot right. But I agree with the OP that revenue scale, organizational scale, and technical scale are all really different. It sounds like they've gone as far as they can with a handful of people. I think they're probably right that if they don't scale, someone will eat their lunch (maybe more likely after this post). I also think asking for help when you feel you are over your head is an excellent sign of some kind of maturity not everyone has.

Have you guys (talking to the OP here) thought about reaching out to 37signals for mentoring/advice? They seem to know or at least think a lot about avoiding VC and bootstrapping. They also seem very plugged in.

Part of what you guys are feeling might be the lack of support/advice/mentoring from investors. For that matter, you might consider looking at a relationship with a VC you think you can trust that doesn't involve financial investment (at least not yet). They may be willing to get involved just for mentoring without any financial obligation on the chance that when and if you do need funding they will be first in line at a shot. Maybe.

I'd avoid 37signals. While they have bootstrapped, they haven't grown very fast, at all. 10M in 2 years is really fast, so they'd need someone who could deal with that kind of quick scale.

I think 37signals would say they've grown like they've wanted to while retaining complete control and building a company they want to keep working at. I don't think they've been after the most rapid growth possible, but sustainable growth that lets them call the shots.

That said, you totally have a point. Maybe they're not the best for consulting with for rapid, head over heals growth.

There is a case to be made here that social print studio should take investment at this point. They have product fit, and now they want a sold or dominant market position. It's a good moment for them and they could probably get pretty favorable terms. Further, they might not be able to achieve a sustainable market position without investment. That's probably the real question.

yeah, i mean, i know what i;m doing by following instinct... but really at this scale... all decisions seem wrong. we truly have no one in the company who has been here before, and that is a problem.

> we truly have no one in the company who has been here before, and that is a problem.

I have bad news: Nobody has been there before.

Perhaps they have managed $10M rev companies before, but they haven't managed your $10M company. No matter what, the prescription is going to be the same:

1. Make serious, solid decisions,

2. Get some of the right

3. Get some of them wrong

4. Course-correct the wrong ones.

I'm taking a wild guess here, but is there any chance the real problem is that you are a bunch of friends? ie, that there is no one with final authority? If so, that will not be solved with a hire.

Anyway, good luck. We should all have such high-quality problems. (btw, currently bootstrapped to 1/10th your number. Prior company founded was an $80M VC-funded company.)

one of your challenges is that at this point, anyone who is interested in helping you, is also the kind of person who wants to get rich off of your hard work (aka ownership in your company). not to say that they won't work hard themselves, but incentives are incentives.

just be careful when you talk to private equity, investment banking and growth capital folks and do not give up ownership of your business easily, if at all.

if they haven't hit you up yet, they certainly will after your posting this. like moths to a flame, they will appear. or maybe wolves to a kill. or vultures.

be especially suspicious of companies that wish to incorporate your firm before you're ready.

also beware of competitors or "consulting firms" calling you up to find out more about your firm for the purposes of a "purchase or partnership" who really just want to squeeze out as much info about you as they can before never calling back.

either way make sure you have good legal representation.

wow, you totally called it! already got on the phone with someone wanting to take things over and do crazy things. shady people ;-) Thanks, i'll be careful. appreciate the advice. I've kept close control thus far and have not wanted to raise money. Hope the right person might come into the picture. Already happy to get a couple genuine emails. cheers!

What you're looking for is a mentor, not a hire. You need someone who's been around the block to give you pointers and illuminate your blind spots. You're clearly doing very, very well already and should be proud of it. Don't let yourself feel like an impostor. You're not. You've earned your success.

Are you guys a platform or do you do the printing and packaging in-house? I hear most social photo co's outsource printing.

It would be ingenious to advertise job postings where you claim to be incompetent. It would appear to hard workers as one of those truly rare opportunities they simply can't miss and start lining up.

from my first post:

> and possibly being disingenuous to your audience here

honestly i don't believe this awe-shucks bullshit for a second, especially from someone who built a $10 million company in 2 years.

Your company sounds like a fun, wacky place to work!

Hi Ben,

First, I can completely appreciate your mentality. When the software company I founded was at about $650,000 in annual revenue, I was convinced that it was time to bring in a seasoned leader who knew how to take the business to the next level because I, as a first-time entrepreneur, had certainly not done it before.

In retrospect, that mentality was a mistake. The truth is that you understand the business better than anyone else and there is no magical skill or talent that someone else can bring to the table that will so fundamentally improve things.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that if you transfer responsibility to "better" executive that they can do a better job. That person will bring their own strengths/weaknesses to the table. They will need to rely on a team to make up for their handicaps just as you are looking to do.

In this situation, I recommend the following:

- First, clearly identify exactly what issues are vexing you. If it seems like "everything" or "things are just overwhelming" then make a list of just the most important issues.

- Then pick 1 or 2 or 3 that you can actually focus on solving. You can't do more than that at once, but imagine how much impact fixing your top 3 issues will make on the business! In fact, you should try to quantify how much money you are losing or missing out on by not resolving these issues to give yourself a sense of what you should budget to solve them

- Then block out or delegate everything else, and focus 100% of your creative energies on how you can resolve these issues. Use any and all resources available to you, including friends, consultants, or even Hacker News ;-) If you don't even know where to begin on an issue, then find an expert for THAT ISSUE (which is different than finding a new CEO).

- Then keep at it, keep refining your ideas, listen to your intuition, and push through until you make progress.

I made the mistake of thinking other businesspeople were "better" than me or more talented than I am. The truth is you just need to know what your strengths/weaknesses are. Then lean on the team around you or new people to help you fill in the weaknesses.

Hope this helps,


Beware of the sharks, a call out like this will bring them on like blood in the water. Best of luck, the golden rule for me has always been that anybody that approaches you is not to be trusted by default.

thanks, hah, already got a call from a shark! ;-)

So does that mean that when you approach somebody you have something shady in mind? Or are you just above the standard you set for others?

Let me try to help you out since what I wrote is apparently not clear enough, I thought the 'default' in there covered the remainder.

If you make a public announcement that you have vast amounts of money or cashflow and that you are looking for help because you are out of your depth then you will find that this will attract besides a few possibly capable people a (probably larger) number of people that will just focus on relieving you of your cash, your company or both.

Personally I would never approach someone making such a call for help for any kind of compensation at all because I (1) don't want to be associated with the sharks (think of it as an easy way to differentiate) and (2) feel that they are better off to go out and do the approaching themselves.

Given that I have in the past approached people in situations like this, and have helped them out as much as possible without compensation (and in some cases spending some of my own money) should hopefully be enough to convince you that there are indeed standards here and that I try to hold others to the same standard as I hold myself to.

Hey Ben,

I'm going to write you a longer email tonight. My wife and I run Cheergram (http://cheergram.com) and we've always admired what you've done at SPS. We had pretty good success with Instagram cards last holiday season and now we're looking into other kinds of cards, invitations, artwork and prints. We're also doing some wedding-focused stuff (think hashtag + prints/books).

Maybe there's a way we can share ideas, work together, or even join forces. I do all our development and it sounds like we have a similar tech stack. I also have some connections in the print industry.

No matter what, keep it up and I agree with most of the commenters here.

That's actually a cool idea - I was sold when I saw the ability to cling it to the wall.

PS: I went to http://cheergram.com/ can I saw the footer twice ("Copyright 2013...")

Thanks, fixed that issue.

Wow! The quantity of bad advice in these comments is shocking, if not down right disturbing.

If Intel, GE, or Mircosoft hired a consultant to advise them on the right move, the vast majority of people on HN would scream bloody-murder and speak about it as a perfect example of big-business and its stupidity. What hypocrisy!

Ben, the reality is that you clearly have moved past Steve Blank's description of a start-up; you have found a working business model. Now, the challenge is to find out if that business model is something that can last for 5 years or 50. No one on this board has run a successful company for 50 years. Thus, everyone, definitely including myself, is well out of their league.

However, since entering the old school world of finance, I have realized that there are many men and women who are twice our age who would be able to give you great advice. You need adult supervision and that is OK. You don't know how to hire an executive (i.e. adult supervision). Thus, you should first find someone who can help you find adult supervision. A great place to start is in the 'boring' industries: finance and manufacturing. Find a wise advisor who can help you find an executive to lead.

You are no longer a start-up. Running a post-start-up company like a start-up will kill it as quickly as running a start-up like a Fortune 500.

I think that your advice is itself pretty bad advice.

It is theoretically possible to hire someone like what you describe, but it seems vanishingly unlikely and much more likely to cause damage.

As many others have pointed out, each business is unique, and the fact that the OP has reached the level of success they've reached is proof that they have a fairly solid management team already. Most likely, they are falling prey to impostor's syndrome - "one of these days someone will discover I'm a fraud and don't deserve all this success".

The cure for that is not to give in to the impostor's syndrome, but to reject it by observing the simple evidence that someone who builds a $10m business in 2 years is clearly very talented and skilled.

Ultimately, if the OP doesn't want to run this business anymore, they could just sell it. But if they want to keep running it, there's no way to abdicate to some "adult supervision" that will magically make all the problems go away. It will just replace the problems with a different set of problems, specific to the new hire.

A better approach if the OP wants to keep running this company is to build some good relationships with mentors who can help the OP grow into the role.

I disagree. Hiring a executive from one of those areas won't give OP what he needs. It will give him someone with a lot of experience in those disciplines and a lot of life experience, but no direct experience in what he needs. I know, my company did that and the person helped with the day-to-day management of things that we didn't know about, but that's really all. It also created a lot of friction because the person didn't understand our business at all, and really didn't want to either. He was near 60 and had left that "learning new things" phase of life.

I'm in the "the OP needs a mentor" camp. His team is clearly doing a lot right and a mentor can give them the confidence to do the rest of it right.

If you are doing 6 figure monthly revenues, one thing worth considering might be to read some mr money mustache and really contemplate what you want for your life ... You aren't required to grow 10 or 100x ... You also have the option of pocketing profits, living frugally, and retiring young. That's one of the big advantages of bootstrapping.

6 figure revenue means nothing without knowing margin.

Especially in the photo printing business!! I don't know exactly what part OP's in, but 4x6 prints are about as profitable as airlines...

Disclaimers: 1. I work for Vistaprint, so possibly a competitor though we shuttered our photo printing business years ago as not profitable and without a clear path to profit. 2. Your site is constantly crashing Safari on an iPad original. (not complaining, just explaining why I don't know what you actually do) 3. All content and opinion in this post is mine. I don't speak for my employer.

just really hard to turn down opportunities which don't even seem that difficult to achieve, and customers asking so much for so many things i want to give them to make THEM happy :-) plus the goal of wanting to actually have some more impact in the space. As an entrepreneur the success of the company quickly blurs so much with having an impact in the world, whether thats true or not... i feel it. Plus, i owe it to my company to keep us growing. We all want to share in on this success. I have actually not even taken a real salary yet, and was never really in this for the money.

Agree with everything that is being said here regarding the executive seats, don't give those out and keep control.

In addition to some executive coaches, who will help you grow personally, it seems you need some good advisors who can help you with the problems that you're facing. Some of these could have experience with technical issues you're facing, while others could have managerial and supply chain experience. It wasn't clear from your website if you have any advisory board or not.

NOTE: there is a very big difference between board of directors and advisory board, what you need at the moment is advisory board, don't give out board of director seats unnecessarily unless you raise a VC round of funding or go IPO :).

By getting a good set of advisors you will be able to fill the immediate gap in your skills/experience that you're facing and may even decide if any of those (or their referrals) need to be hired, if at all, for executive positions.

Now how you find advisors is non-trivial so I will advise you to look for people with experience in your industry and domain, and contact them. Even if their companies seem to be mildly competing at times, you'll be surprised how many people will meet with you over coffee and might have recommendations. If you decide to have a person come on as an advisor, don't give them any compensation till they start providing value. If someone comes on very strongly and will only help if compensated, then perhaps that is not the right person.

Good Luck!!!

Ben, first, you are NOT in over your head, you are simply questioning whether or not to grow your company to some preceived "next level" by looking for funding to take on major players in your field.

Why not continue to innovate your successful bootstrapped business?

The most important thing for you to consider is whether or not you actually want to compete with the major players in the field. It sounds like you are doing well managing your boutique operation, and frankly, based on what you've provided it sounds like you are killing it. Boutique operations often destroy their larger competitors, and are far more nimble to have the next best thing that becomes popular and doesn't require "funding" to generate revenue.

Yes, you could hire a new CEO to help track down funding and manage all the acquisition inquiries that you've received. But, if you have a successful bootstrapped business that is generating profits, why would you want to deviate from your current course?

Ben, just want to say - congratulations! This is a FANTASTIC problem to have :-) Great job to you and your team getting this far... I think you realize how special and rare it is. Great job!

thanks so much! appreciate the comment :-) come say hello if you are in SF.

I'm having a hard time understanding what exactly it is that you do, from your confusing web site introduction.

Concerning your scaling pains, lots of people probably already do some form of what you're trying to do; you may do better to assimilate/enfranchise them rather than competing.

Book suggestion: "Four Steps to the Epiphany"

Basic takeaway is not to add structure until it's painfully obvious that you need it. If you hire a VP or CxO from a large firm, he's going to staff you up like a large firm, and you can't afford that yet.

You know more about your business than anyone else. Nobody is in a good position to do things better than you, given the things you have learned. Otherwise, you wouldn't have gotten as far as you have.

Perhaps you need some mentors, or just folks you are comfortable talking to -- perhaps other founders?

As an angel investor I have found that the one of the things I am called on the most to do is just let people talk stuff out. I don't feel like it is very useful but people really like it.

Are you saying you guys are making $10m a year printing Instagram pictures? That is incredible. This company must not have existed a few years ago..

pat yourself on the back and get yourself some local angels on board. they get to wet their beacon and you reap the rewards of a business coach.

This is a brave post, Ben!

Gotta agree with most of the comments here -- I think it's incredibly hard to find someone who's "been there before" who can walk in and actually do it for you in a CEO role. I've spent some time looking + asking others in similar situations.

That said, and though I strongly prefer moving people up from the inside, I think there IS opportunity for finding people who can bring specific areas of expertise, like fundraising+connections, building a sales team, leading a tech team.

And I think there's a lot to be gained in finding a strong mentor or group of entrepreneurs in similar situations to act as a sounding board. I can't help with the former, but perhaps the latter. Let's hang again, soon.

I'm not sure if this will help or not but I would head over to http://clarity.fm and find someone to chat with.

Your bound to get some great advice and gain some valuable insight.

I recommend looking into joining Entrepreneur's Organization. It's an organization of business owners who own businesses with revenue > $1 mil/year (there's also an "accelerator" with owners whose revenue is > $250K/year). They will provide invaluable coaching, insight and network that will help you take your company to next level.

There's a chapter in SF: http://eoaccess.eonetwork.org/SanFrancisco/Pages/default.asp...

Great advice in this thread. If I can leave anything, it's to be very careful not to fall into the I-need-a-COO hole. If you start thinking you need a COO (I really f'n hate that title btw), take Brad Feld's advice and make sure you can define the role as Head of _______. If you can't define that something, you definitely just need a CEO coach and a few smart soundboards to hang around with.

Good luck!

PS - The sharks will all want to be CEO and talk about comp before they've tried out your service...they're easy to flush out.

Surprised some commenters have trouble figuring out what you do... You folks have fun doing it! But hiring will always be hard because finding people who fit and who also sustain your high level is hard...

No useful advice... except, stay extremely clear on who you are, don't compromise even a little on that. "An empty seat is better" is a corollary.

I just wanted to say that I remember seeing you at probably more than one event. I think you guys are doing a fantastic job and I think your cry for help is necessary - but only because you know what you need and you're likely not doing as badly as you might think.

I know you guys can do it. I've seen what you do and I'm impressed. Keep truckin'!

It almost sounds like you're looking for a parental figure more than anything. If you're at the stage you're at, I would suggest building up existing talent and establishing authority and a process for that authority. Better to do that now while things are young before you hire in some flashy top talent guy with perfect teeth.

you should mention your current technology stack for the web dev.

it's all over the place since we have been building and rebuilding things, but currently it's mostly rails and node.js. Hosted on Heroku.

Doesnt sound Bad, what are your technical struggles about exactly?

Are you guys open to remote work?

are you guys open to remote work?

Your hiring page is awesome.

I can't comment on how you should proceed going forward, but to echo the other comments, you've obviously been doing something right. Hopefully this post will put you in touch with the right people.

I was thinking about you guys just the other day as I walked past your old place on Atherton. Been meaning to catch up; you want to grab lunch sometime soon?

yo steve! good to hear from you. drop by our new space!

I've built two printing companies (sold the first one). Feel free to contact me if you have any questions on scale or anything else. cm@printsmart.co

Can't help you guys out, but congratulations!

Wish you guys were in New Jersey ... ;)

I have no idea what you do by looking at your website on an ipad.

Not every company is a billion dollar company. Is yours?

The community here is overly negative on VCs (often with some justification) but this is exactly the kind of reason they exist - fast growth, real revenues, money can help get you to the next step.

If I were in your position, I would apply to YC.

YC's 6% equity cut isn't a big hit when you're at the "we have an idea" stage, but if they're a $10M company already that's a lot to pay for advice...

I think it's worth evaluating. Increasing their chance for success by 6.4% isn't that high a hurdle. IMO, it's a horse race against all the other next steps OP could take with his business. YC's a pretty strong horse in that race.

(I suspect there's also still room for negotiation, even if YC isn't advertising that fact any more. Three guys and an idea? 6% More than $10MM in revenue? Let's talk.)

The value of the business would instantly go up a lot more than 6% just by having "YC" forever attached to the company. All of the advising, connections etc would just be a cherry on top.

The value might go up by more than $600K right now, but assuming it gets to $100M, who knows if the value will have gone up by $6M due to the YC branding.

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