Just getting started on an idea for a startup or been slogging away for awhile and wondering: how long does it really take to get this company off the ground?
You’re not alone.
I recently received an email from one of my readers Carla who wrote:
Well, it’s officially been a year since I started working on my startup idea, and I still haven’t shipped it…
At first, I was just trying to get over the hump of thinking it was good enough. Then I debated on quitting my day job, but I really didn’t have the means to because I have a mortgage and day care expenses. So I started working on the idea on the side.
Next, I went around in circles trying to figure out how to productize it and to figure out who the customers would be.
After that it was finding teammates to help me out.
Taking all this time to figure things out has caused the deadline to slip more than once.
I read your post last week, and I do think my nerves are holding my creation hostage.
Because every time I feel like I’m on the cusp of hitting my stride, I face a major setback, which makes me feel like it’s been 1 step forward and 2 steps back.
I don’t know what to do.
To make matters worse, I feel like I’m letting people around me down.
My husband keeps asking me when I’m going to ship a product and start making money. And my kids are wondering when mommy is going to have time to show up to their soccer games again.
Between my day job and this side project, I feel like I’m just letting everyone else down.
I’ve sunk so much of my time, energy, and money into my startup and product hoping that it would give me more creative and financial freedom. But to be honest, after a year of slogging, I just feel tired and all alone.
It doesn’t help when I read that people came up with an idea, shipped it, and started making money within months.
It makes me feel like I’m just behind, and will never be able to catch up.
You’ve always been pretty upfront with your posts and into myth busting on FemgineerTV, so please tell me: how long is this really supposed to take to get a startup off the ground?
First, I want to thank Carla for summoning the courage to reach out and share what she is going through. It takes strength to admit that things aren’t going well, especially when it seems like everyone around you is “killin’ it!”
Carla’s brought up a number of concerns, and I’m going to tackle each one.
Going all in vs start on the side
Carla mentioned that she didn’t quit her day job because she needed the money.
Reading between the lines, it seems like Carla is a little ashamed that she can’t go all in.
Probably because she and a number of us are constantly being fed the narrative of the twenty-something who either dropped out of college or quit their day job, worked out of their parent’s garage for 6 months to come up with an idea, shipped it, and it started growing like gangbusters.
Kudos to them for killin’ it!
We also start to believe that we’re somehow not as committed if we aren’t dedicating every waking hour to working on it.
When you have personal and financial commitments like kids, a mortgage, and so on, there is no shame in working full time and working on a startup or product on the side. Frankly, it shows you are capable of managing your time and being financially responsible!
You can choose to quit your day job once you hit a major recurring revenue milestone. I say recurring because a one-time lump sum doesn’t guarantee that you’ll have additional revenue coming in that will cover bills. When you start to see recurring revenue over the course of 3–6 months, that can be a good time to make the decision to quit. And once you quit, you’ll most likely be able to generate even more revenue, because your business will have your full attention.
I know some folks out there maybe worried about what their employer will think or say. My recommendation, use your judgment. If your employer doesn’t appear supportive, then keep a tight lip about your side hustle.
Is everyone actually killin’ it?
Some are and some aren’t.
However, admitting that things aren’t going well is a sign of weakness. It shows that they don’t have it all figured out yet.
Here’s the thing: no one has it ALL figured out!
Those who might have made their first dollar, need to figure out how to make their next dollar. Even those who have made hundreds or thousands, often find themselves stuck after a while, trying to figure out how to get to the next level.
The other big myth is how long it took to get their idea off the ground.
Some claim it took months, others will say a year, but here’s the thing, however long they tell you it took them might not be an accurate estimate, because again people don’t want to admit that it took them years to figure it out.
If you dig a little deeper you’ll discover that they might have had a slew of ideas that didn’t go anywhere for awhile. In the course of experimenting, they happened to discover a breakthrough idea, which did take off. Instead of counting all the time it took to get to the breakthrough idea, they reset their clock, making them appear to be an overnight success.
Building a support system
We all have moments where we can’t seem to motivate ourselves, that’s when having a mentor, advisor, or friend whom we can trust to listen to us is important.
They might not always have all the answers you need, but they can be counted on to offer you some perspective, so you don’t feel like you’re going at it alone.
Your own timeline and needs
Carla mentioned starting this idea for creative and financial freedom, which are great goals. In addition to those, I’d recommend that she explore additional ones like flexibility, so she has time in her schedule to spend with her family.
There is no shame in taking breaks and setting time aside. It may mean going slower, or possibly even faster because you’re propelled by the energy and support you get from spending time with loved ones. In the end, it saves us from burning out.
Each product requires a different amount of time, energy, and money
Consider the type of product or startup you’re building.
Too often people go all in on building something like a software product, which requires tons of time and capital.
And if they don’t have loads of experience, time, or the capital it can feel really slow going.
So why not start with something small? Again I repeat there is no shame in starting small.
Learn from shipping a small product like a blog, a book, or offering a service. Learn from shipping it, and then tackle something bigger.
Those that climb Mount Everest, don’t start by climbing Mount Everest 😉
A few years ago I was itching to ship another product, after having shipped 2 software products.
I didn’t have the means to build another software product because it would mean hiring a team, managing them, and investing the time to build it.
So I decided to work on shipping something smaller on the side: a book.
It took far less time and capital than a software product, and I still received a ton of benefits from shipping it such as generating revenue and building an audience.
After shipping the book, I received a lot of positive feedback, and eventually developed the book into a course. One product led to another. It was a natural progression over time.
When to shut a startup down
After putting in a lot of time and effort the last thing you want to hear is someone telling you to shut down your idea.
However, it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. If you’ve run out of resources, become dispassionate about the idea, or want to pursue something else it is OK to shut it down.
Earlier this month my co-founder and I shut down BizeeBee, a product and startup company we began back in 2010. Over the past 8 years, we’ve learned a lot from running it and enjoyed serving our customers. But in the last 2 years, each of started to focus more on other ideas. Building Femgineer became my priority, and my co-founder has his own. So we made the decision at the end of last year to shut BizeeBee down.
It was a bittersweet ending for the both of us, but it also gave us the much-needed closure to move on and focus on what we really want to do.
Hopefully, this post helped Carla get a little more clarity around a number of her concerns, and realized that she isn’t alone is pursuing a path that is contrary to the common narrative about how to pursue an idea.
Have you been in similar situation? Share what you went through in the comments below, so Carla and others can learn from your experience.