The Long Grind Before You Become An Overnight Success

“So, what do

chartHustling from our shared workspace cubicles

you do?”Ugh. I hated that question.

The truth was that we were trying to start a new venture but we hadn’t really made any progress.

But, instead of just muttering something, I would force myself to enthusiastically pitch our current struggling idea. They would nod along but the scepticism on their face was hard to ignore.

And, when I was done, they would sometimes hit me with: “So, is that your full-time thing?” Ugh. What that really meant was: you’re trying to tell me that you spend all your time working on that ridiculous idea?

The Grind
We left our finance jobs in the summer of 2007, and we worked really, really hard. By February of 2010, it had been over two and half years of hustling on no salary. What did we have to show for it? Nothing.

We hadn’t made a dollar of revenue. We had been rejected by every investor we talked to. We hadn’t been able to recruit anyone to join our team. We hadn’t gotten traction with any of our ideas.

We had failed to get more than 10K monthly unique visitors for Yipit for the last two years despite trying several ideas with it. We were going sideways:

yipit

On a personal level, my life savings was disappearing. I kept getting hit with late penalties on my credit card. Not because I didn’t have the cash to pay it, but because I just didn’t want to think about it. It was too depressing to look at my depleting bank account that I had worked so hard to build up. I remember withdrawing all the money from my 401K account and having to confirm that I did, in fact, understand the massive penalties I would incur for doing so.

In all honesty, I probably would have given up earlier. The only reason why I didn’t was out of loyalty to my co-founder, Jim, who had also quit his finance job. He had passed up many amazing job opportunities to work alongside me and I wasn’t going to quit on him.

Everything Changes
So, it’s now February of 2010, over two and half years since we started, and we have yet another idea: build an aggregator for the early but quickly growing daily deal industry. The idea was sound, timely and right up our alley since we had been doing local deal aggregation for the last 9 months.

And, in just three days, everything changed.

yipit

We launched the new idea in a three-day scramble, got some initial press, users loved it, and four months later raised $1 million from amazing investors. A year after that, we’ve raised $6 million, made real revenue, attracted hundreds of thousands of users, and recruited amazing people to join our team (we’re hiring! join us!). And, best of all, we’re just getting started.

So, what happened in those three days?

I’m convinced that if we had the idea for a daily deal aggregator back in 2007 or 2008 or even 2009, we wouldn’t have gotten traction because we would have messed it up.

But, after two and half years of failing and learning, we knew exactly what to do:

  • Product strategy. We had become a part of the lean startup movement. I had gone to the New York lean startup meetups from the beginning, read Four Steps to Epiphany, and knew we just needed to build a minimum viable product.
  • Coding the prototype.  I had taught myself web development over the last few years and Jim had taught himself front-end development. We didn’t need to find an outsourcer, we just quickly built it ourselves.
  • Designing the user interface. We had already designed a bunch of prototypes. We knew how to design the landing page to collect user email addresses, the sign-up flow to collect preferences and to ask our new users to spread the message.
  • Getting initial press. We knew how to craft our story in a way that would get journalists interested. We got featured on TechCrunch and Wired giving us a strong initial boost
  • Getting investors interested. We had built relationships with many New York angel investors over the last few years and we were able to quickly drum up some interest based on our traction since they already knew who we were.
  • Building buzz. We had become involved in the New York tech community and our friends in the industry really helped us build initial buzz for Yipit

Now that I look back, I realise that I was wrong to think that we had nothing to show for two and half years of hustling. While we didn’t have outward signs of success, we had learned something very important: the art and science of starting a new venture. It took us almost three years to know what exactly we had to do during those three days.

And, so, to everyone out there who’s struggling and feels like they have nothing to show for it, I hope this post keeps you going. You’re learning every day. And, when the inspiration strikes, you’re going to be ready to pounce on it.

Read more posts on How to Make it as a First-Time Entrepreneur »

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