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Patrick McKenzie
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startup therapy

Long time lurker, rare poster. Just felt like posting tonight, though this post will likely be a rambling mess, as I don't really have a point. Also, details will be vague because I don't want to tip my hand about what particular business I'm in.

Started my business in 2005 as a consulting firm targeting the type of work I was doing previously. Always with a mind to build a product in the same space. Quit consulting to develop the product full-time in 2007. Presented a beta version at a conference in Fall 2007. Launched 1.0 a year later at the same conference. Now furiously working on 2.0. Have two paying customers, a third very close to signing, and a pretty good looking pipeline. Average deal size is $30K. Despite the low number of paying customers I have done a bunch of customer development that I should be able to tap into after the upcoming 2.0 launch. I have a good feeling that 2.0 could be a tipping point for the business. I can't really call the business profitable at this point, but I think I am close, and I think 2.0 may put me over the top.

Sounds great, right? So what's the problem?

In short, I'm coming to the end of my financial and psychological rope. I have never tried nor desired to raise investment money for the business, though I might consider it if/when I run out of all other options. I have to push the boulder over the top of the hill sometime this year to justify continuing. The market that I am selling into is evolving, so if this 2.0 release does save the business, it will only be temporarily -- the 3.0 release will need to address a broader market.

I have come a long distance, at significant sacrifice to myself and my immediate family. I am close, so close. Yet burnout and bankruptcy lurk in the shadows. I try to ignore them, but they are there, watching. I go on, I go on. I think about Nukeman Bill and CC, two contributors to this forum whose stories have resonated with me over the years. I am no longer flying completely solo; I have some help. Yet in the larger sense I am very much alone. Sometimes I step back and wonder at how far I have taken this -- not in a self-congratulatory way, but more in a "holy sh*t" way. It is an obsession, I have no idea how it will turn out, it sucks the life out of me, yet I can't imagine doing anything else.

Thanks for listening.
someone Send private email
Saturday, September 12, 2009
 
 
"I have no idea how it will turn out, it sucks the life out of me, yet I can't imagine doing anything else."

I can't think of any better way to put it. I've been trying to make a go of various things independently for over 10 years now, so I'm pretty sure I know exactly how you feel.

I don't have anything that might help you, so I hope knowing you're not alone is of some comfort!
Gavin Bowman Send private email
Saturday, September 12, 2009
 
 
I've hated having to register but felt strongly enough to do so just to post.  I've been there myself and am still struggling as well. 

If you've read profiles of people that made it big like Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, etc., even those exceptionally smart and very successful guys had their deepest and darkest moments they had to overcome.

ie. Richard Branson took in a lot of debt and in the eleventh hour was able to pull through.  Here's a good quick read on what he had to go through:  http://sivers.org/desperate

Another good read about struggling through tough times are some of the stories in Outliers by Malcom Gladwell.

I think the easiest comes right after the hardest times in your life.  And once you're able to get over that hump everything will be downhill for awhile.  You'll be able to look back and be proud of yourself for not giving up and succeeding.  Others with less fortitude would've just given up and closed shop whereby if they had just stayed with a bit longer they might have succeeded.

Good luck and best wishes!
fearless Send private email
Saturday, September 12, 2009
 
 
You're on your way, best of luck!
Anonymoose Send private email
Saturday, September 12, 2009
 
 
Good luck.  Maybe you could do some consulting on the side to stretch the run way out a little longer?  (Having time on your side rather than working against you is so very helpful)
Doug Send private email
Saturday, September 12, 2009
 
 
It's extremely common, I might say even normal, to run into this just as the business is about to take off. You are almost there, and you just collapse in exhaustion and want to give up.

Sometimes that makes sense, like if the product is useless and there is no market.

But in this case, you have signed on $30,000 deals, which means there is a market.

How to get over the hump I don't know. Take 2 weeks off and rest, get out of town, got to Mexico.

Come back and start fresh.

This hump though is where a lot of businesses fail.

I would not recommend pushing through without a rest if you are really burned out.

I'm assuming you've been working 7 days a week, 12 hrs a day for a long time. That pace will break you without a break.
Scott Send private email
Saturday, September 12, 2009
 
 
30K per deal is good. I suggest that you wait a little more.

Probably you can tie-up with a bigger company that has a good network of similar customers.

Regards,
Gautam Jain
Gautam Jain Send private email
Sunday, September 13, 2009
 
 
All, thanks for your responses. Best of luck to each of you, in business and in life.
someone Send private email
Monday, September 14, 2009
 
 
I spent my last 11 years trying to build the "breakthrough" product that would make me financially independent.

Has been a long, hard, exhausting, but still exciting journey. My wife has been with me for that long, and our relation has been on the brink of collapse for many times.

I am also on the "just a little bit more to go" phase and I positively feel the heat, desperation, mixed excitement, you name it...

... so, no, you're definitively not alone... welcome to the community!
Rui Curado Send private email
Monday, September 14, 2009
 
 
Many years ago, a friend took me sailing for the first time and explained to me that if you never tipped your boat over, you didn't really know how far you could push it. On the other hand, if you spent all day with your mast in the water (because you keep tipping over), that's just not much fun. Most of the time, you're trying to find that "edge" where you know you are going so fast that just a little bit more and you'll tip over.

So ... most startups "tip the boat over" once in a while, and many decide that's the end of the journey for them. Perfectly reasonable. Some right the boat (or get a new boat) and keep going. But from what I can tell, most successful startup founders push themselves so hard that they feel close to tipping over most of the time; it's normal - the steady state.

If what you really want is not to feel like that all the time, then you probably should look for something else to do. If what you want is to know it's normal to feel like that, then perhaps you should keep pushing your edge to be as successful as you can be. It might not happen on this startup - you might hit it big on the one that you start after this one, using what you learned from this one. You might never hit it big. But the people who do hit it big tend to push themselves to their edge and stay there.

Just my opinion. Good luck.
Patrick Foley Send private email
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
 
 
Start consulting job and work on the product and marketing during off hours. This works for me.

If there is a possibility of consulting in the same category as your product then its wonderful as you can find opportunities for marketing during your consulting time.
nj Send private email
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
 
 
@Patrick,

"Many years ago, a friend took me sailing for the first time and explained to me that if you never tipped your boat over, you didn't really know how far you could push it"

Maybe a good idea with a Laser but not recommendable with a 20 foot small cruiser...
Javier Send private email
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
 
 
Yeah, these were small ones - good point :)
Patrick Foley Send private email
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
 
 

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