How to survive the first 2 years of startup?

by Chandoo on April 30, 2012 · 11 comments

in My Story, Startup Struggles

How to survive the initial years of a startup?

It has been 2 years since I quit my job to embark on exciting journey of my own venture. It has been one heck of a journey. Look at these numbers to get an idea on the amount of change in this two years,

March 2010March 2012
Number of customers100390
Number of employees (excluding me)04
Monthly revenue
(excluding advertising, INR payments, consulting fees)
$2,735$29,768
Customers from22 countries35 countries
Average sale value$27.35$76.32
Best selling product
(by quantity)
PM Templates (83 units)PM Templates (228 units)
Best selling product
(by $s)
PM Templates ($2565)Excel School ($12,132)
Most frequent first name of customerMark (4 times)Michael (8 times)
Total visitors to our site371k1,353k
Number of customers buying multiple quantities12 in all months of 201021 in all months of 2011
Refunds by year$42 in 2010$858 in 2011
Total RSS / Newsletter subscribers~ 9,000~ 40,000
Total comments467717
Total spam3,58930,164

So how did we survive the initial years? In this post, I will summarize the ideas that worked for us.

Make Mistakes

Just like the first 2 years of a kid (often first 31 years of a kid) the key to survival is in making mistakes. I do not mean dumb, repetitive mistakes. But the kind of mistakes that you make when you explore, when you learn, when you try, when you assume. Make more of those. These mistakes helped me learn new things about my business,

  • Mistake of doing everything myself helped me realize that I should get help and partner with more to be successful & happy.
  • Mistake of saying yes for everything made me realize the value of NO and simplicity.
  • Mistake of focusing on irrelevant things helped me see the importance of our goal – to make our users awesome
  • Mistake of doing too many things helped me realize the importance of focus.

Ask

There is a saying in India, “if you do not ask, even your Mother will not feed you.” Many startups focus on asking wrong people & ask for wrong things in their infancy. This leads to a lot of stress, discouragement & financial hardship in the early years.

I am glad I have,

  • Asked my readers to become customers & pay me for my products
  • Asked for help thru oDesk & similar channels & hired people
  • Asked leaders in my niche to collaborate & recommend my products
  • Asked my readers & customers for regular feedback
  • Asked my website visitors to join my newsletter, every single time they visit us.
  • Asked the most prolific commenters on my site to join us as guest authors & help us

Do

Almost all of us have ideas as grand as next iPad, Avatar movie or ikea store. But less than 1% of us have the guts to do anything about it. Startup founders are no exception. During the initial stages of a startup, the founders have grand vision & unlimited ambition. Often, this leads to planning paralysis. Founders spend months planning, designing & mocking up things that it delays the actual purpose of the company – to sell something & make money.

Although it has been only 2 years since I started my company, I have been selling products for more than 3 years now. But even after quitting my job, I did not loose focus on the core purpose of our company – to make our users awesome & make money.

Related: It is not rocket surgery, make your first $ already

Measure

No matter how much you ask, how many mistakes you make, how much you do, it all can go for waste if you do not measure. During the first few months of your startup,

We need not be obsessive about this measurement nor too detailed. Most of the measurement is automatic thanks to tools like Google analytics, Bank statements, time trackers & email analysis applications. So use them and make a rudimentary report every month. If nothing, just write down the metrics on a white board and hang it near your workspace. Update it regularly and you will have a clear sense of where you are heading and where you are failing.

Be Patient

A handful of patience is worth more than a bushel of brains

– Dutch proverb

We, startup founders tend to be impatient & anxious. We want the change, fast paced action and movement. May be that is why we did not fit in to the corporate environment and choose our own path. But this very nature can kill our startup in early years. It is very important to give our startup the time it takes to settle down & grow. Never expect immediate results or quick fixes in early years. Instead focus on laying strong foundation, good values, good processes & building teams that work well.

  • Do not expect your new store design, web site layout to be effective overnight.
  • Do not expect your product to make a million dollars in first week.
  • Do not pressurize your employees to perform from day 1.

All this does not mean, we should set our goals very low. Instead, we need to be realistic and give time for our startup to grow. Just like you do not expect your kid to walk on first day after birth, do not expect your startup to fly from first year.

Related: Follow your passion, but manage poop too.

How did your startup survive the initial years?

Is your startup more than a few years old? How did you survive the infant years? Please share your success story using comments. I am eager to learn from your experience & ideas.

Please comment.

Wishing our startups many more years of success & growth.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Dau80 April 30, 2012 at 8:41 am

Good work Chandoo. What I appreciate is that you have been taking small doable steps and incrementally build on to something bigger over the years. This is a good lesson not just for upcoming entrepreneurs but for others as well. Execution is and always has been the key – your journey so far has underscored this fact.

Good Luck & jolly good health.

Reply

Chandoo April 30, 2012 at 11:09 pm

@Dau… Thank you so much for the love. You are right. All of these are relevant no matter how small or big you are. All the very best to you too.

Reply

Sukant April 30, 2012 at 9:24 am

The no of visitors you have mentioned above – Are they monthly or yearly or from since March 2010.

Reply

Chandoo April 30, 2012 at 11:04 pm

@Sukant… all the figures are for March month (2010 or 2012) alone. There are few stats that are for entire year, but I made a note on them, so you know.

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Arvind October 10, 2012 at 5:15 pm

Hi Chandoo,

Do u load test your website? what tools have you used?
I know its not exactly where i should be asking, but figured you might have come across it.

thanks
Arvind

Reply

Tudor May 9, 2012 at 6:24 pm

Hi Chandoo, congratulations on your business, and your website. This page was a very interesting and enlightening read. I am following in your footsteps and hope to one day enjoy the same success as you. I've been trying to get people to learn Excel in my own way for over a year now, but only recently have I started expanding my online presence. Your stats are extremely impressive, and I wish you more success in the years to come.

Whatever support and recommendations you can throw my way, they are always most welcome. Thank you
Andrew [at] 2DCanada [dot] [com] (e-mail format totally stolen from Chandoo.org)

http://www.facebook.com/2DCanada

Reply

kidakaka May 29, 2012 at 5:22 pm

haha! I liked the line – follow your passion .. but manage poop too 🙂

Good post Chandoo!

Reply

Graham Paterson April 1, 2013 at 8:49 pm

I love your websites and your insights. The Excel videos are, as advertised, awesome. My very best wishes for a fantastic 2013. Greetings from a cold but sunny Scotland 🙂

Graham

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Amit Rai June 7, 2014 at 8:38 am

Am A great fan of you & regular viewer just one question where exactly have you heard the saying
“if you do not ask, even
your Mother will not feed you. ”
Otherwise Great article Chandoo!!

Reply

Manish August 19, 2014 at 12:08 pm

Hi Amit
This is common saying used in Gujarati and other Indian Communities who are usually in Business. Its origin is form the Old Days when we it was common to have more than 1-2 child in India . My boss use it to explain the importance of asking for order .

Manish

Reply

Devonte June 14, 2015 at 10:59 pm

This was very great advice on being patient. I think so many people including myself focus on numbers going up in such a short time that we lose focus on the foundation. Well said and helpful for me.

Reply

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