Making the Startup leap of faith

One topic that always seems to crop up at different startup related meetups and events is ”When do you know when the right time to get your startup going?”  I hate that question.  Usually it’s asked by someone looking for validation that they aren’t about to make the biggest mistake of their life by leaving their old life behind and creating a brand new one — Their Startup.

Indiana Jones and the Leap of Faith

It is a scary time — wondering how you’ll pay your bills, how you’re going to accomplish all the tasks on your insane ToDo list, how to explain it to your significant other…  The problem is that there’s no way to know what’s going to happen.  We can plan, but things change.  So the truth is that there is no Magic 8-Ball in business, and we can fail at any time.  But when to make that leap?  That’s actually easy to answer:

When you have to.

When all you can think about is your business.  When you don’t care if you are going to fail or succeed and just have to do it because it’s all you want to do.  That’s when.

I was working at Dyn Inc. for 9 years, at a great job, when I left to start my company. I had 6 months savings (ended up being 3, thanks to storm damage) put away to help me get by until my company could take off (with some luck) but that was it.  No more health insurance, no more quarterly bonuses, no more actual paycheck.  I was terrified but excited; I was the founder of my own company!  Hear me roar!

The very next day a bug appeared that affected all 65,000 of my users, not caused by me but a bug in Adobe AIR that invalidated stored settings, including if they were using a non-default location for their database.  So if someone had changed the file location, the program wouldn’t see it as it’d use the default location instead and therefore it appeared they lost all their data.

Yes, the day after leaving my job to run my business full-time, I had the second worst possibility happen where users thought they lost all data in their database.

I was able to get a fix out that weekend, but if I hadn’t, or if users actually did lose their data, that would have been the end of my company over night.  Kaput.

Two days after that, I proposed to my girlfriend (she said yes ;) ).  Two days after being hit by a problem that could have left me jobless. And then two days after that, I had to explain to her family how I thought leaving my job before proposing was a good idea.  Talk about a difficult conversation .  And she has a big, big, big family.

So was it the right time to make the leap?  Yes.  Why?  Because I had no choice.  I was working a full-time job during the day, going home and working until 2-3am, then getting up 4 hours later to do it all again.  I was sitting on the couch with a laptop instead of spending time with my fiance and dogs.  It couldn’t continue, so I had to pick between my ‘regular’ job, or take a 2/3 pay cut and do what I was passionate about.  I don’t even recall thinking about it; I just knew I had to run with my company.

My own father still shakes his head in disbelief, muttering “I still can’t believe you left your job like that” every time it comes up.  And I always tell him I can’t believe I waited as long as I did to do it.

So when is it the right time?  When it is.

A bit of advice:  don’t do it alone.  There’s great resources out there to help startups of all kinds.  If you’re in the Manchester, NH answer, check out the abi Innovation Hub, which I’m a member of.  Otherwise, search around online for business incubators in your area.  And hell, if you’re a Startup and I can help with anything, let me know!   It takes a village to raise a kid or a startup.

 

Analytics: Stalking visitors in a non-creepy way

When I first started out offering MyGunDB to the public, I had no idea how to use analytics.  Like many others out there, analytics
I knew about visitor counts (or at least thought I did) and that was about it.  As time went on though, I stopped worrying about how many people visited my site and instead I began focusing on more useful information — who were they, how did they get to the site and, most importantly, why they visited.

Since I use WordPress for MyGunDB.com, I use the Jetpack plugin, which gives me stats, and I also installed the WP-Stats-Dashboard plugin.  Among a bunch of other useful information, the #1 used piece of data I use it for is to see what URL users visited my site from: the referring URL.

You see, when you click a link on a website that takes you to a new site, that new site can see what URL you were at.  Why is that analytic useful?  Well, among other things, it allows you to:

  • Find out what type of website your visitors are from.  This makes it easy to find new markets to reach out to.  I never would have realized my software was being talked about on an Offroad Vehicle forum without it.
  • Follow it back and control the conversation if needed, since you can see where a visitor came from.  For example, if a visitor came from a forum post and you see that there are questions people have there, or maybe some misinformation was posted.  You can now jump in, if appropriate, and help out.
  • Get a bird’s eye view of your word of mouth — as you see where people are coming from, it’s far easier to spot patterns and trends that will help with your community reach out and marketing.

I break it down a bit further though; I track if visitors come from a website that has never sent anyone before (and therefore is a totally new website) or if it’s sent people before but through a different link (for example from a different forum or blog post).  If it is a new website then that’s a whole new territory to explore!  If it’s a new post on an old website, it allows me to reinforce my presence in the community by participating in yet another thread there.

Sounds great, right?  Being able to immediately jump into an area where you have visitors coming from and take control as needed is awesome, right?  Yep!  Unless you make the #1 wrong move — don’t jump in and try selling your product!  This analytic is generally about community building, not being a used car salesman.

When you jump into someone else’s site, it should be to help the people there by making yourself available for questions, clarifying any confusion and being an ambassador for your product.  The moment people think you are joining them just to make a sale is the moment you’re going to piss them off.

Following the above method helped me grow to 65,000 users of my software in my first year, almost entirely via word of mouth. Why?

Because I was able to spot within MINUTES of a new visitor reaching my site where they came from and I would pop in to say hello (when appropriate).  When the members there saw how responsive I was, they were very accepting as long as I wasn’t there to advertise.  And over time, I became part of that community.

So the 2 rules for back following visitor referrals are:

  1. Always see where visitors come from so you can get a better idea of your potential market and help them along
  2. Don’t advertise your product at the destination — make yourself available for help and the conversion rates will follow

What is the #1 traffic analytic you’ve been using, and how?

 

Why NH for my startup?

Lately I’ve been talking to a lot of people about my startup, Intelligent Firearm Solutions, LLC. and I keep getting asked the same question over and over:  ”So, are you moving to Boston?”

And every time I get asked it, I respond the same way: “That would be a step down.”

You see, I used to think about having an office down in Boston someday, and how pimp it would be to have a Boston address on my business card, but that was before New Hampshire made it clear that it was welcoming Startups.

In Boston I’d have to pay higher taxes.  In Boston I’d have to fight to get my company attention. I’d have to pay higher rent, I’d have an inferior office for more money, I’d have a hell of a commute and I wouldn’t be as surrounded by a support network for my startup as I have been here in good ol’ Manchester, NH.

Here we have the support of a lot of other startups through the abi Innovation Hub as an example — my first day there I met up with members of Mosaic, another local startup, and within 10 minutes we were discussing immediately actionable analytics and how to use them to manage Word of Mouth and what we look for.  I got a ton of wonderful ideas from that little chat!

The next day, another member there showed me a project he was working on and mentioned he was missing a mobile interface, which happened to be something i was currently working on for myself — so now I’m putting that experience to use developing one for his project.

This goes on and on here in NH — we’re smaller than the Big Ol’ Boston areas, sure, but it means that every other startup is a close neighbor. Here in NH we believe in being good neighbors and lending a hand when we can.

Organizations like stayworkplay.orgthe abi Innovation Hub and techhampshire.com are all about making NH a wonderful place to startup and grow a business, making NH the place to be.  NH has always looked up to the independent individual and it’s no different when it comes to startups.  But just like even independent individuals need friends, so do startups.  NH wants to help organizations grow, to be able to stand on their own — you won’t get carried though. You still have to work, but you’re not alone in it.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Boston — I really, really do.  But it’s just a short drive from my home, and my business’ home, here in NH when I want to visit.