Running out of steam
Startup steam depletion. I've been on the startup journey for a few years now. Isn't that crazy? GiftStarter won 1st place from a Startup Weekend hackathon and then by July 2014, we were incorporated and diving into launching our MVP (Minimum Viable Product - we called it a Minimum Viable Experience, or MVE.) in August 2014.
I'm standing now, with a totally different team, having depleted most of our steam - and figuring out how to keep going. Because honestly, I've run out of steam. We're going today mostly thanks to the heartfelt energy that came from Jin and Sean in the past 6 months.
What happened between August 2014 and today (April 2017)?
From 1st place at a Startup Weekend hackathon, we moved forward. I dove in, sprinting and grabbing every opportunity I saw to give us a chance. Decisions were made very swiftly. We launched as a B2B company. Our initial model was focused on growing relationships with partners who were ecommerce businesses, that drove consumer traffic to our web application (that would enable people to group buy any product.) Our goal was to sign on 10 businesses. We signed on over 27 in less than 6 months. Well, then the relationship with our co-founder/CTO ended very abruptly at the end of 2014.
Even with 27 ecommerce partners sending traffic our way - the referral business didn't pick up. Our hypothesis was proven wrong. The direct and consumer traffic was growing at a significantly faster rate. Decision made again. We switched to being a B2C company in May 2015. We rebuilt a slightly better consumer site - and even did a v2 refresh. Decision made to change out the team. I hired a whole new team (also went to a remote work structure for the company when joining 500 Startups in San Francisco. We were still CTO-less. Being CTO-less was a bigger challenge to the company than I realized at the time. My third co-founder also stepped out at this point to focus on family. This is the also the story about me being the first pregnant CEO (8 months pregnant) to pitch at the 500Startups demo day on October 31, 2015. We were the 7th fastest growing startup in our batch, gift transactions were growing 50% MoM. We also raised about $500K for our seed round.
I overestimated my abilities, overestimated the team I had, underestimated the magnitude of what being a first time mother would be like, and completely underestimated what it would take to run a fledgling startup company, with a remote team (and I can write more about to remote work as a company, or not later. My vote is don't do it. Remote workers care more about "me" than the "we". A startup's life and death is all about "we".) Hindsight, I should have asked for more help as soon as I found out we were pregnant. Find an executive. Actively look for that CTO. Ask our investors for support. Something. I did the best we could. Two weeks after the "Lentil" was born, I was back at work. That didn't go so well. At all. I was like a crazy person. I tried fundraising. I don't recommend doing that after giving birth. Giving birth to a human and all of the emotional, psychological, mental, hormonal, and physical aftermath is a really big deal. We lost steam. We ran out of money. I even second mortgaged our house to carry us as long as we could. Startup steam depletion.
Obviously, that was not sustainable. Another challenging decision made finally. I had to let go of all the employees. With full on postpartum depression, my depression sank deeper and deeper. I think I'm still working on recovering from depression.
Then at the end of the year, our current investors gave us some more funds to carry on and re-test the metrics we had achieved in 2015. I cannot thank them enough for believing in us. Then, we discovered some crazy new product/market insights that we need to think through and test further. And...
Lots of fronts that need attention and decisions: My baby is 14 months old and needs his momma. My husband is very busy with his job (and very supportive of me. Actually, the biggest supporter of me and our startup that I know of.) Current investors continue to be very supportive. And we are at startup steam depletion: of energy, funds, and people. The market has changed a bit since 2015. After 3+ years without earning a salary, I feel the need to start earning cash for my family. The product needs a major upgrade. In hindsight, I see some other items we should be doing. We need to rethink our strategies and roadmap.
So here we are. (I'm really tired.)
Now it's Arry + Sean left standing and rethinking through everything. More than anything, I've discovered, startups are a HUGE mental game. I feel like I'm a professional athlete competing in the Olympics.
Mind over matter.
Would appreciate any positive thoughts or support you can provide. I need your help to keep going. Many more decisions to make. Fast.
Thanks for reading.