Thursday, March 10, 2011

How to Start a Company (I Hope)


Update: While WikiDates.com is being developed, I've started a placeholder blog on the domain to more fully explain the idea, update people on the project, and discuss some ins-and-outs of dating. If you want a better sense of what the site will be about, check out this blog entry specifically.

Let me tell you the story of WikiDates. It’s a fairly short story thus far, and it does not yet have an ending.

“Wait,” you might say. “What the hell, Shawn? Why would you tell us a story that has no ending? And it’s probably a story about you, too, isn’t it? You pompous prick.”

Well, if you’d freaking listen for, like, a minute, maybe I was getting to that. Seriously. Wow, you have a short attention span.

This could be my site.
Sad Face ...
You’re entering the story at a pivotal moment -- the rising action leading to the likely climax, where things either come to life in spectacular, vibrant colors … or wilt and die. (See illustration)

Let’s briefly jump back to the beginning. I have such a diverse group of smart, talented friends and so many fun ideas for websites tumbling around in my head that I've always wanted to quit my job to enable me to work in an intensely focused way to put that plan into motion. So, in December 2010 I decided to do just that.

I quit my entirely stable job of five years to flesh out side projects. Ideas I'd had in the past were interesting, but they didn't quite light a fire inside of me. Finally, in February I was searching on Google, trying to find an interesting place to take my girlfriend for our one-year anniversary. Obviously, my first search was “Best Las Vegas Dates,” and I couldn't find anything truly worthwhile -- just a bunch of top-10 lists in blogs, articles, and the like. I was hoping to find a place where I could search through a ton of possible dates to find the perfect one for us, and the perfect one for this occasion.

But, whatever; I didn’t find anything useful, so I came up with my own date ideas and moved on. A few days later it struck me: Obviously, if I wanted something to exist and it didn’t -- I should make it. Most of the best ideas are things that people stumble upon purely by accident, and the true innovators are those who recognize that moment.

So, I got to work all by my lonesome setting up the company, organizing and mapping out the business plan, designing page comps (mock-ups of what each page will look like), itemizing developer specifications, and coming up with Facebook-, Google-, and guerilla-marketing plans. I bought the domain YayDates.com -- yawn -- because my preferred domain, WikiDates, was taken. I put a backorder on WikiDates, just in case 1) it actually went up for sale and 2) they were asking a reasonable price. Then, lo and behold, I got an e-mail a few days later that WikiDates was for sale, and it was going at a price that was significantly lower than I had expected. It seemed like all of the pieces were clicking right into place and pushing me to finish the puzzle. (Warning: the preceding sentence was very cliché.) (Note: The preceding warning was pointless, having come after the sentence. Sorry about that.)

However, I’ve never started up a company before, so it all still feels a little daunting. What’s more, thus far (and for the foreseeable future), I’ve been funding the entire company and taking on all of its startup costs out of pocket (remember, I’m unemployed now). So, I’ve been trying to get away with things as cheaply as possible. I figured I had an obvious resource right in front of me to possibly alleviate both issues, so I started searching around for blogs, books, or cheap software that could give me a leg up in the startup game.

That catches us up to just now, when I happened upon something called the Lean Startup Bundle on the site AppSumo.com (a Groupon-style group-buying service for techies). I was honestly dumbfounded by what was being offered (and I’m not just saying that because someone from AppSumo is likely to read this blog) -- $6,620 worth of software, web apps, and services chosen specifically for startup companies … for $99. I immediately shot the link to two friends -- one who had committed to helping with the Web development for my site, and another who was starting up his own company -- simply because the deal seemed too good to be true.

But then it got even more insane. In addition to this bundle, AppSumo was holding what they called the Lean Startup Challenge for anyone who bought it. The Challenge is a contest awarding funding, mentoring, and even bigger packages from some of the companies with products in the startup bundle.

Essentially, this whole AppSumo deal became eerily perfect for me. It provided a bunch of books on startups (all in eReader format, which was much appreciated; gotta love my Kindle), premium newsletters and blogs on startups, cheap software tools and web apps to help me organize, research, analyze, and implement what I needed to do (including web design, which was another issue I hadn’t tackled yet!), and now this -- the almighty funding.

I’ve been wrestling with the idea of taking on investors and venture capitalists. The decision seems like a non-decision: depleting my life savings self-funding this company or doing the smart thing and selling investment shares in the company to people with deeper pockets than I. I came to realize that while I have a romanticized vision of owning my company outright, the fact remains that a site like mine is going to need a tremendous marketing push and a lot of organization to survive, and that’ll mean more capital than I have. A good friend of mine reminded me that owning 100% of a $1 million company isn't as good as owning 40% of a $50 million company or 20% of a $500 million company, and the company is incredibly unlikely to get that big without external investments. He is, of course, entirely right.

So, like I said, we’re now at the climax of my little WikiDates story. I’m not exaggerating when I say that winning this sort of prize could make or break my site, effectively crushing my dream of running my own company and seeing my idea come to life and succeed. The best part, however, is that the climax of the story involves audience participation. AppSumo has to decide who to award the prize to, and they’ve specified that they’ll base their decision on Twitter voting, as well as their own (dare I say “perceptive, balanced, and inarguably fair”?) opinion.

But, no pressure or anything … just sayin’.

Wish me luck!

- SPG


PS. Those links above to all of the products in the bundle were not required for this blog. The people at AppSumo never asked for entrants to put any links in their contest-entry blogs, I just kinda wanted to show some love for some of the products in the bundle since it was suck a sick deal.

Ragaboo T-Shirts