How Startups Really Survive (The Short And Long Of It)

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Weathering long-distance moves, moving in with parents, long commutes, tight budgets, pregnancy…

By Elizabeth Yin (Co-Founder, LaunchBit)

Last night, I was at Google on a panel talking about women in entrepreneurship. Afterwards, I chatted with an attendee about the very early days of LaunchBit.

I mentioned that one point, I’d lived at my parents’ house to save money. This shocked her and she replied, “Oh…I could never do that.” And that was just the beginning of all the sacrifices that many people have made in order for LaunchBit to work.

There is so much that goes on behind the scenes of a startup – beyond actually running the core business.

Founders often don’t talk about personal hardship, but everyone has a scar, especially in the beginning.

After my failed startup Parrotview, I convinced my best friend Jennifer to start a company with me. I’d wanted a second chance at doing a startup, and she was finishing up her PhD at MIT and decided that research was not for her.

I convinced her to move to Berkeley, where my husband and I had been living so that we could work together in-person. She packed her bags and embarked on a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend, who soon became her husband over the course of the next few months while still doing long distance to Boston.

I picked out Jennifer’s apartment in Berkeley that would double up as an office and workspace, and I chipped in for rent. I felt bad that we could only afford an absolute junkhole. We nicknamed the place “The Club,” because every night, bright blue and red lights would come through the window from the street below, as cops were arresting people.

Meanwhile, on the home front, Curt and I were counting our pennies – he was a postdoc supporting both of us, and I was pouring money into the business. Cash was tight. Everyday, I was thankful that for just one more day, Curt was patient, Tim put up with his long-distance marriage, Jennifer would be safe in that rathole, and that somehow everything would work out soon.

After almost a year of this, Curt took a job in Boston, so the three of us left Berkeley and moved to Boston, and Jennifer was reunited with her husband. Just a few months later, Tim, Jennifer, and I moved back to the Bay Area to enter the 500 Startups accelerator program. To do this, Tim quit his job. They also had a baby on the way, due just after Demo Day. They moved in with her parents and had no car.

Jennifer would take public transportation to 500 Startups everyday, which was a 2+ hour commute each way. One day after Demo Day, Jennifer and I went to a VC to pitch our company, and a few hours later, she went into the hospital to have her baby. Investors were shocked to see a 9 month pregnant woman in their office, but honestly, it was just business-as-usual for us. A couple weeks later, Jennifer was back to work. Jennifer’s parents have been absolutely amazing in providing childcare. I don’t know what we would’ve done without them.

We’ve come a long way from our days in Berkeley.

We now make money, we pay ourselves, we’ve raised money, and we’ve hired people.

When I reflect back, a lot of what we did to make things work seemed par for the course at the time – these are the kind of things you do for your company without batting an eye. But what amazes me the most is how many friends and family have poured their lives into helping us make this work out – and continue to everyday. This isn’t their dream, so it’s not something I take for granted. On days that are tough, it’s this thought that motivates me even more.

What sacrifices have you made to keep your startup alive?

This post originally posted at LaunchBit’s blog.

About the guest blogger: Elizabeth Yin is a Co-Founder at LaunchBit and is currently in the 500 Startups incubator program. She is an internet marketer and backend programmer. Previously, she ran marketing for startups and also worked as a marketing manager at Google. Prior to Google, Elizabeth wrote backend code for startups during the rise and fall of the dot com era. Elizabeth holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Stanford and an MBA from MIT Sloan. Follow her on Twitter at @launchbit.