"Only crazy people attempt to start their own company."
I think this is true to some degree. You have to be a little crazy to try going on your own. Either a romantic optimist, or someone so confident or stupid you just don't know better.
Two years ago I co-founded mymind.com together with my partner Jason. As always, we did it our way. We didn't raise millions of dollars to fund it. We both invested our own money and bootstrapped it from the ground up. It's the harder way but for us, the only way.
If you're reading this article, you may have been part of this journey from the beginning. We launched with a waitlist and slowly let in more people to try out our product. At the time, it was just Jason and myself building the product. One developer, one designer. The launch went surprisingly well.
More than 50,000 people signed up to our waitlist. Then it was 100,000, and it continued to grow. It never gets old, building something from nothing and seeing so many people showing interest in what you made. Even if you experience it a thousand times, it still feels like the first time. Like children, we read every single tweet and every email that came in.
The euphoria carried us through the next several weeks as we worked around the clock with little sleep. Jason and I were fixing bugs and answering support tickets at the same time. We did it all and we loved everything about it. It was as personal as it could possibly get. We felt invested in pleasing every single member and customer we interacted with. If someone had a special request, we took an entire day to make sure that person got what they wanted.
Naturally, even with that passion and personal investment, the honeymoon phase will fade. It always does. Both for a founder but also for a customer. The high eventually wears off, and you see which customers stick around and which were only there for the hype. This is when you start to feel a great deal of pressure. The customers who stick around have expectations. People will start to compare you to competitors in the space, asking for features that might be completely the opposite to what you're building. Some will threaten to cancel their membership if a certain feature or platform support isn't shipped by date X.
That's when it gets stressful. And it's where many companies lose their energy, their soul and their vision. The pressure comes in like a hurricane, scattering your attention and threatening to destroy the little house you've carefully built. You start losing focus – patching up the roof when you should be reinforcing the foundation, looking out the windows to see how your neighbors' homes are holding up. You find yourself running around in a panic, and it quickly wears you out.
Jason and I expected this to happen. We're an incredibly small team and the tool we're building has massive potentials in all directions. The beauty of mymind is that it can be anything to everyone. But that potential is also dangerous: if it's everything to everyone, it can also be nothing to no one.
Over the last couple months, we definitely felt the pressure. We know that we not only have to deliver a certain feature set to stay competitive, but that a certain base level platform support is important to build the product we want to see. (And between us, platform support is mostly just work – neither interesting nor magical work.) At the same time we have to focus on growing our user base, ideally with people who believe in our mission and become a paying member.
Jason and I started feeling burned out. Not so much by the amount of work, but by the lack of focus. We were stressed about outside influences, comparing ourselves to companies we cared little about. Or unhealthy growth goals that just didn't apply to a company without millions in funding for marketing. For some reason, we fell into the trap we knew well to avoid: trying to grow for the sake of growing, at an unreasonable speed, in all directions possible. We believed that we HAD to ship a certain feature or platform, because otherwise our members would abandon us.
Thankfully, we quickly realized we wouldn't get far with that mindset. We sat down, looked at how far we came in the last two years and where we wanted to go. And we decided it was exactly where when envisioned going from the start. We came back to our original mission and vision, and the winds shaking our house immediately ceased. We found our focus and our confidence again.
We're in it for the long, long road. If we're honest to ourselves, we don't care about fast growth. We don't care about competitors. In fact, two or three of the competitors we had on our radar two years ago don't even exist anymore. That's how fast things happen these days. They just didn't make it, despite their millions in funding. What we learned was that we needed to focus on who we are again. Burning ourselves out with unreal expectations and growth goals would only drive us to the ground.
We're not planning on selling mymind to the highest bidder. We are building mymind because we want it for ourselves. We're building it for the kind of person who can identify with who we are. Our small team may take a little longer to launch a new app for a new platform, but we will ultimately get it done. And we will get it done properly, with a focus on our values and our vision.
We don't have to be the first house that's built. We don't have to be the biggest house. We just want to be the house that's there the longest. The one with the most beautiful garden, the one where the colorful birds decide to land and take a break. When all the others have crumbled to the ground or sold to the highest bidder, we plan to be standing strong.