I just got home from a 12-day roadtrip to Boston and NYC. The first thing I did was to pour myself a shot of tequila. Then I put on Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse of the Heart. On repeat. I read Mark Suster's amazing post on TechCrunch tonight as I crossed the border from the US to Canada (yay! I got data back!). Like many of his posts, it struck a chord with me. It talks about the rollercoaster that is being a startup entrepreneur. It spoke to those really high moments when you have an amazing team and you are gelling and pushing from dev to production and everybody is excited. And the other highs when you come out of a great meeting with a potential funder who seems really gung-ho about you. And the other highs when you get press on TechCrunch or Mashable or even in the New York Times. And when you get amazing customers who are using your product even though you know you have a long way to go to make it usable. But it also talks about the lows. And those lows are heartbreaking. And, well, I've experienced many of those, too. When you have to tell those same amazing team members that you can't pay them (or yourself). And when those same gung-ho funders turn cold a day or two later with an email that goes something like, "We discussed this and we're going to pass." And when the amazing customers don't come back because you aren't pushing enough fixes or improvements because, well, you can't pay your employees because, well, the gung-ho funders are passing.
And you know the potential. If only they could see the amazing energy in your team. And how dedicated they are (the many who are working even though they aren't being paid). And your roadmap answers the needs of your users, but it's slowed to a snail's pace because development takes money. That golden ring is just a couple of dollars away.
But you start to feel the squeeze yourself. You have $2.99 in the bank. You are calling your landlord asking for a rent extension. You are ignoring calls from numbers you know are your credit cards wanting to be paid. But you still believe and, dammit...you just need one person. Someone to believe in you like you believe in you. Someone with money to invest in that belief.
I'm the most fortunate person in the world. I stayed with a good friend in Boston and got to stay with two good friends in New York. And I have hundreds of good friends who will buy me a meal, a drink and who have even put Friends and Family money into my dream because they believe in me.
Yes. We know the market is getting crowded. Yes. We know that they holy grail of consumer data is a long shot. Yes. We know that Facebook or Google or Amazon or Microsoft or American Express or MasterCard or Visa or any other giant with huge resources and big teams and marketshare and blah blah blah could flip a switch at any moment and challenge anything we are doing. We think about this daily. We understand the risk. We get that this is a crapshoot. And no. We can't guarantee the future. But we believe. We believe in our team. In our dream. In the vision.
I would have stuck with my cushy speaking/author career if I didn't believe. Cassandra would have stuck with her cushy VP job with a hot mobile development company if she didn't believe. Jerome would have stuck with his cushy development firm with a constant influx of clients and cash if he didn't believe. Jesus, he has a baby due any day. His amazing wife, Kim, wouldn't even dream of letting him pursue this dream if she didn't believe. William would have stuck with his cushy growing design consulting (and holy crap he is talented) if he didn't believe. Robin, who I rely on constantly as the most amazing eye on the market, would have taken that cushy job offering her the moon if she didn't believe. We all took on this very personal risk...and we know the risks...because we believe. We're not masochists that want to struggle. We truly do believe.
Egad, where am I going with this?
The other day after a heart-to-heart, I told Cass that I find it therapeutic to work my thoughts/frustrations/ideas out on my blog and on Twitter. I've tried to keep a journal, but it becomes a spiraling mess of nonsense because I don't think about the audience. I've tried to have one-on-one's, but that just doesn't bring in enough outside perspective. And, really, I believe strongly in the message of Jeff Jarvis' book in progress, which I believe to be that being open and transparent with your experiences brings more good than bad to one's life. So I bear my heart on my sleeve for the world to consume so that everyone can a) learn from it and b) offer me their own perspectives on it. For better and for worse.
I believe in what we are doing. Some days I don't even grasp what that means. And I know that doesn't make perfect sense. Shwowp isn't about showing off purchases. It's not about daily deals, either. It's not about posting pretty things for people to aspire to. It's about working towards that holy grail...people owning their own consumer data. Vendor neutral. And highly personal. We leave a thumbprint on the world through the ways we express ourselves. Through what who we hang out with. Through where we go. Through what we read. Through what we listen to. And YES, through what we buy. And this world is filled with endless choice, but the choices we make are personal to US. From the clothes we buy to the brand of dishwasher detergent we use. It has a story. It's the story of who we are. And that story has power. I see that story ending the nonsense that is tracking software and cookies. Because we (you and I as people who, yes, consume) should be able to use that taste data to filter through the noise.
And dammit...the compelling part of this story for investors is that, once you help us unlock that power, there is a huge revenue upside. And I can't freakin believe I just typed the words revenue upside.
Someone is going to see this. Someone is going to understand that we are not only the team to build this, but the team to deliver this powerful message and to make it hella amazing. And we are going to do this. I don't do anything that doesn't have a 'change the world for the better' bent. And through this heartbreaking process, I feel it slipping. I hear myself saying things like 'revenue upside' and 'go to market strategy' and I chase the witches broom just so that someone...anyone...will help us get there. Cass and Jerome and I will lead us there.
As Mark said in that fateful post (I swear that guy reads my mind), "Maybe even tequila. And the next morning – water off a duck’s back. We’ll find a way. Startups weren’t mean to be easy. Back to work." We're going to keep working at this. I look around my apartment and know I can part with everything here if I have to. And looking back, we will have the most EPIC FUCKING startup story to tell ever.
Heh. Actually, I do believe this is not really the most epic startup story ever. It's a startup story. It's what we all go through. Because truly groundbreaking startups all go through this. They are all crazy enough to believe in something that is difficult to 'elevator pitch'. They see the world in a different way.
The key is getting in front of someone...anyone...that believes in that same damned crazy, risky, unknown different worldview and believes in you to achieve it. We'll find it. We will.