Slowly, Slowly: Growing From Side Project To Funded Startup

BabyList

The startup seems to move very fast. But actually, it is a slow story.

By Natalie Gordon (Founder, BabyList)

My company, BabyList, is part of the fall batch of 500 Startups. I decided that 500 was the perfect accelerator for BabyList, saw that they had open enrollment, spent two days on my application, had an interview and was accepted. Two days later, I was in Mountain View (a painful commute from my home in San Francisco). All of this took place in under two weeks.

All of that seems very fast. But the story of BabyList is actually a very slow one.

In February 2011, I “launched” BabyList by putting up this post on Hacker News. Due to the power of an awesome headline, and a slow news day, it spent about 24 hours at the coveted #1 spot. Two weeks later, I gave birth to my son.

BabyList was a project I let myself have fun with after a painful bout of contracting. Since it was just a side project, I had zero expectations. Post-launch, I was just thankful to have something to think about other than the bundle-of-need who had joined our family.

Every day I fixed one bug, improved a bit of copy, rewrote an email or pitched a blogger or two. If I did one of those things in a day, it was a success. Then while jiggling a newborn at 3am (between episodes of “How I Met Your Mother”), I checked out Google Analytics.

During these initial months, two important things happened:

  1. BabyList made money. Not a lot of money, but more money than I expected.
  2. Users loved it. Not that we had a lot of users, but the women using the site were crazy about it.

Here is a randomly selected an email from that time:

Success!! Well… not really.

Check out the graph below. What did March feel like? There were days where only 20 people visited the site.

 

BabyList is my second startup.

When we launched my first startup, my marketing plan was that we would be covered by TechCrunch and everyone would tell their friends about it and we would have users. During that first month when none of that happened and no one was coming to our site, we decided that the thing to do was to keep people on the site longer. We added feature after feature and lost all focus and a year and a half later officially dead-pooled the site.

I truly think that BabyList is as good as it is right now because I began with lowered expectations.

When you first launch a product, you think the user-acquisition hose is going to be turned on right away. For the vast majority of new products, that simply won’t be the case. If you find yourself in this situation, don’t freak out. Go slowly and focus on the handful of customers you do have. Find out everything you can from them, make incremental improvements, stay focused and give it time.

One final thought – the email congratulating me (on being accepted into 500 Startups) was a continuation to an email thread we started in February 2011 right after BabyList launched. In our original emails, I wrote that this was just something to do before my next bigger project. I’m glad I gave it the time it needed to grow into that next big thing.

This post was originally posted at Natalie Gordon’s blog.

Women 2.0 readers: How have YOU grown your venture from a side project to a funded startup? Let us know in the comments.

About the guest blogger: Natalie Gordon is the Founder of BabyList, an online baby registry that lets you add anything. She loves building useful things for pregnant women and thinks that she has the best job in the world. Natalie was previously a software developer at Amazon.com. Follow her on Twitter at @natgordon.