Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Impatience Kills Startups


We live today in am impatient world. In many ways, that's good. We're unwilling to wait for the world to change; instead we go out and change it. But this impatience has a cost.

People tend to view startups these days as overnight successes. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most successful startups had a long gestation period during which an impatient person would have concluded that they were going nowhere.

Seth Godin calls it "the dip"--the valley of death every new idea has to survive.

Take PBworks, which has taken five years to grow from a hackathon project into a substantial business. David Weekly spent 18 months working on the project, by himself, without pay. If he had given up after 6 months, PBworks wouldn't exist today.

Twitter was born from the failure of Odeo. Ev had been incredibly patient with Blogger, roughing it out brought some very lean times. When Odeo failed to catch fire, Ev and he team persisted, convinced that they were on to something with Twitter. Twitter itself was a curiosity for many years before breaking into the mainstream.

But perhaps a homier story will be even more illustrative. A few years back, a friend of mine decided to create a blog network. He bought some domain names, set up WordPress, and started paying a couple of freelance writers.

When he started, no one read his blogs. And I have to say, I was pretty skeptical of his business prospects, especially since his blogs covered well worn topics like food, sports, and gadgets.

Fast-forward two years and his little blog empire generates $10,000 per month in revenues, growing fast. It's already profitable, and in a few more months, he might even be making enough to quit his day job (though I doubt he will).

And thanks to his patience, my friend is in a great position to start future companies. He has a source of income, and can use he remnant advertising inventory from his network as a low-cost marketing tool. I'm sure he wishes it had taken less time, but I guarantee that he's glad he was patient.

P.S. In the couple of months it's taken for me to transfer this post from my iPod to this blog, my friend has grown his blog network to a $50,000 per month run rate. I think that just reinforces my original point--growth can be explosive once you reach the tipping point. But it might take years of toil to get to that point.

13 comments:

Arik Waldman said...

What a great post, Chris.
I would say that patience is not enough. Persistence incorporates patience with passion.
My question is: What are your thoughts on when patience is just not enough? Patience = time = money. While I agree wholeheartedly with what you wrote, is it possible that entrepreneurs sometimes cannot afford to be patient? The lack of money/time a company needs might lead the entrepreneur to take impatient decisions. What do you think?

Chris said...

Arik,

The danger with patience is that you could end up never acting, which is also a decision in and of itself.

The patience I'm referring to is more about understanding that things will often look pretty bad before they look better, and to have the intestinal fortitude to make your way through the dark days.

John J. Walters said...

Perhaps it is the curious combination of patience and persistence that marks a successful entrepreneur.

The willingness to silently persevere on a project requires true internal passion for what you are doing.

Uh-oh -- clever blog post title: "The Three P's of the Entrepreneur -- Patience, Persistence, and Passion."

What personal platitude solves the problems that plague most projects? The answer is plain! Plenty of patience, persistence, and passion.

Alliteration for free.

Arik Waldman said...

Copywriting at its best :)

emw said...

All throughout my childhood, my dad drilled into my head this mantra: "If you push on something hard enough, it will fall over."

This simple phrase has gotten me through many dips in life, and has been essential for all of my startup endeavors.

It turns out that the phrase is jokingly known as "Fudd's First Law of Opposition", and I think it comes from Firesign Theater, a comedy troupe with a cult following from the early 1970s.

My dad and I just recently watched the incredibly inspirational documentary, "The Pixar Story". Afterwards, he commented, "They pushed on it, and it fell over."

I like Lean Startup methodology as much as the next guy, but a post like this provides a valuable counterpoint. Sometimes you have to pivot, but sometimes, you just need to be patient.

Anonymous said...

What's your friend's blog network?

me - Tech News

Anonymous said...

Revenue is not net profit :)

Mick said...

I think it's actually a mix of patience and impatience.

You need an impatience for action or doing stuff. You can't sit back and just expect magic to happen. Yes, a bit of thinking, but a lot more doing.

You need a patience for good results. I think you need impatience for some results, and by that I mean answers, finding things out, seeing what happens. Writing code that no one sees, or business plans that don't get put into play, then you don't get results. But you need to be patient for getting results that mean it's all working.

Another AND that you need. :-)

Good post.

Trevor Krueger said...

This is such a true and encouraging article, I'm really delighted I read it!
I myself am starting up a new venture and it has taken a good year or two to get to this stage, having begun as a magazine only to discover much greater potential.
www.global-ambassador.org is now born and ready to trade. I hope we will become a major influence in the ditribution of positive "national" information for every country in the World.

Vladimir said...

Awesome post! It made my day.
Mick made very good notice about a mix of patience and impatience.
You need be a patient and continue to work even if you haven't any results for now.
If you stop at the middle of the way - you'll don't get a result.
But when you continue your work - you will get a result for sure.
Even gain experience is a good result.
In difficult moments, I say to myself - "you have to fight!".

Thanks for the post!

Chris said...

A lot of people have asked about my friend's blog network. $50K is top-line revenue, but his expenses are a small fraction of that figure; it really is a very profitable business.

woan said...

I like Arik's patience = time = money and would extend that to opportunity cost...

You better have more passion for the specific business than everything else; otherwise, count it as a lesson learned and move on.

I have worked on projects and businesses that became modest or reasonable successes after years of effort that I wish I had quit earlier to do something else.

I think twitter is actually the counter example here as they realized their original idea wasn't working and brainstormed to find something new.

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