One Founder’s Journey from Idea to Product to… Pregnant?

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A female founder explains how she taught herself to code, built her company and handled finding out she was pregnant all at the same time.

By Samantha Quist (Founder & CEO, Copywriter Central)

I first found out a few months ago, just as I was preparing to launch our beta to early clients. Of course I was excited — I had wanted this! — but the reality of how it would impact my career as one of a tiny minority of female, bootstrapped, self-taught-developer, startup founders in Silicon Valley hadn’t quite sunk in. There was no going back now: I was pregnant.

When I first had the idea for Copywriter Central over a year and a half ago, I knew the traditional formula for startup success by heart: you’re supposed to form a team, join an accelerator, raise money, etc. But that formula didn’t work for me. I didn’t have a team lined up, or angel funding, or even much coding expertise. What I did have was a solid idea, a computer, a fascination with the lean startup methodology, some encouraging advisors, and a whole lot of impatience — I wanted to get a product out there and see people start using it, like yesterday. So, I got to work.

First, I bought Michael Hartl’s book on Ruby on Rails and taught myself to code. That took a few months and tested my (im)patience to get my product out the door, but it was satisfying work — there’s nothing quite like building something from scratch and the instant gratification of seeing the results appear onscreen. I was hooked.

I spent the next few months in market testing mode, refining my idea and practicing my Rails. I learned what would motivate our future clients and drive our writers. I made long lists of prospective users and scheduled phone calls with almost anyone who would talk with me. I sketched out dozens of wireframes and talked through them with users.

By October 2012, armed with my newfound coding skills, an idea I believed in, and a solid understanding of my market, it was finally time to start building the product. I coded and hacked until I had a fully functioning website with all the early features I had envisioned — sweet! Things were looking good — our early beta clients loved getting matched to top writers and our early writers loved having work delivered to their inbox. I thought I’d run a few user tests and be ready for a public launch by January 2013. But there were a few usability bugs. Okay fine, there were actually a LOT of bugs. It took several more months to fix everything, working closely with our writers and clients to iron out the kinks, until the product was finally ready to go in May.

Meanwhile, I had become… well, huge. Early in my pregnancy, I had thought that if I just kept things under wraps, my pregnancy wouldn’t hurt my career. Don’t ask, don’t tell? Well, at some point it becomes tough to hide that giant watermelon under your blouse. And anyway, my company’s premise is all about facilitating a better life for high-initiative people who strive to live on their own agendas and work the hours they choose from wherever they are. Similarly, startup founders set our own schedules and hours, too. As I thought about it more, I realized that I may actually have the perfect career for becoming a new parent. It was time to stop hiding. Whether it’s a pregnancy, a family emergency, a surgery, or a breakup — life happens. So, startups happen and life happens, and the most successful startup founders figure out how to make them both work at the same time.

This week, Copywriter Central launched to the public. We didn’t get here via the traditional startup-founding formula. In fact, I don’t know of any other technical, self-taught, solo, bootstrapped, and female startup founders in Silicon Valley (though I’m sure you’re out there!). But we did get here. And the truth is, my company doesn’t care if I’ve known how to code for years or just learned recently, it doesn’t care if I’m married or pregnant or gay or straight, it doesn’t care what path I took to get here, and it doesn’t even care how big my founding team was or how many investors I have.

What matters now is simple: have we built something people really want? If we get that part right, everything else will come.

Women 2.0 readers: Were you ever worried about how your pregnancy might affect your startup?

samantha quist headshotAbout the guest blogger: Samantha Quist is the founder and CEO of Copywriter Central, an online marketplace that matches businesses’ freelance writing projects to top-tier writers. She also worked on Google’s Product Management team, founded an editorial business, led marketing for an internet startup, and graduated from Stanford University. Incubated at the Google Ventures Startup Lab and First Floor Labs at AOL in Palo Alto, Copywriter Central first launched publicly this week. Follow her on Twitter @samanthaquist