By Tracy Osborn (Founder, WeddingType) At first, I thought my life’s path lay in programming: I was in high school, building table-based websites and deduced that if I was good at HTML, I would be good at programming. But literally the first day of my classes in computer science, I realized something was wrong; I was building programs that spit out numbers, working on algorithms, and nothing was visual: everything was text. After a year and a half of struggling to learn Java, I switched to art & design where I worked on the opposite of what I learned in computer science: everything was paint, design, sketching; and I was 10x happier than what I was. At that point I thought I wouldn’t do programming again.
One of my first breaks in my career was my first professional job as a designer for a company named Remilon -- literally, a startup in a garage. While I was a proficient web designer (I still only knew table-based HTML and one of my first tasks was to learn CSS), they hired me due to my past experience with Java. I was the only designer, so I tasked myself with learning as much as I could: SEO, advanced CSS, fantastic HTML and front-end markup that would cause Internet Explorer to cower before me, and refining my web design skills. If it wasn’t for that previous programming experience, I wouldn’t have been hired, and I wouldn’t be the web designer I am now.
How could I improve wedding invitations?
After four and a half years, I finished learning what I could, left Remilon, and started freelancing, and it was during this time I discovered how much I wanted to work on my own company. While working for Remilon, I was close to being engaged to be married, and spent my free time perusing wedding forums, mostly interested in wedding invitation designs. I prided myself in being a bit of a tomboy but wedding invitations were fun, beautiful, important pieces of design that heralded a very important ceremony in a couple’s lives. Wedding expenses, however, were ridiculous, and being a design-focused individual, I was interested in do-it-yourself invitations. However, people who chose to build their own invitations because they wanted to save money usually weren’t designers -- Comic Sans and Times New Roman, sad stock art, poor printing. It started me thinking, how can I improve this industry?
Starting a company
In August 2010, I officially started my company and my search for a cofounder. I was a designer, and everyone told me that I needed a technical partner. This is still great advice, however, I rushed the process and jumped into a cofounding relationship that wasn’t the perfect partnership that it needed to be. We were building my original invitation industry idea -- a typography generator for invitations, so DIYers could build their invitation online and print at home, and guarantee themselves beautiful typography on a budget. I applied to Y Combinator, was granted an interview, but then rejected. At that point, my cofounder and I split up.
I was now cofounder-less, passionate about building a startup and launching something in the wedding invitation industry, but also wary about finding another cofounder -- the majority of developers don’t want to work in nor are they passionate about the wedding industry. The choice was to either give up and go back to design freelancing, or do it myself.
Returning to programming, even if it was simple webapp programming, was difficult -- I still retained a lot of mental scars from my programming classes back in university. This time, though, I was driven to see my idea born. This is also why tutorials or university classes never worked for me: if I was working on something I was invested in, then I’ll actually learn the material. I switched from the original development-heavy typography generator idea and worked on a directory idea instead: a curated listing of boutique and bespoke invitation designers. I loved custom invitations and wanted to promote small invitation designers in the world of giant, corporate invitation providers.
It took six weeks to build my MVP, invite five designers to list themselves, and I launched WeddingInviteLove in January 2011. Today, WeddingInviteLove lists 235 vendors worldwide, went through a major redesign, and launched paid features (I’m on the way to ramen-profitability as we speak).
The funny thing is, if it wasn’t for building websites in high school, I wouldn’t have gotten into computer science -- if it wasn’t for computer science I wouldn’t have gotten my job at a startup -- if it wasn’t for that first job, I wouldn’t have taught to learn as much as possible on my own without mentors and juggle as many roles as possible. I’ve been lucky with the things that have influenced my path.
Startup lessons learned Don’t be afraid to DIY -- An uninspired or enthusiastic cofounder is worse than no cofounder at all.
Seek help -- I had friends advising me about the proper ways of programming, code-checking, pointing me on the right StackOverflow path, answering questions, and helping me out when I got stuck. If I was stubborn and insisted on learning everything alone, I wouldn’t have learned or built as fast as I did.
Launch quickly -- I know many startups that hide in development or closed beta trying to make things “perfect”. The thing is, things are never perfect -- there will always be code to update, UX changes, SEO improvements, etc. The first version of your product will need to be changed. Launch it, test it, take it before real people, and start gaining traction -- any mistakes you make in the beginning will be able to be fixed.
Worry about the easy stuff last -- As a designer, I could have designed the entire app to perfection before building it -- that certainly would have felt easier, but I would have been procrastinating. But I worked on the hard and frustrating back-end programming parts first, then once that was finished, all I had to do is skin the app really quickly to launch. Once it was launched, I could get feedback from vendors and customers, then I could worry about getting pixel-perfect details in.
Stay motivated -- I’m lucky to be dating another startup entrepreneur, who yells at me when I’m on Reddit when I should be working. If I didn’t have that, I would probably find a coworking space somewhere so I stay motivated. Working on my own means I am very easily distracted, and I’ve learned to work around my distractions so I get work done. Do whatever you need to do to make sure you stay on task.
Work on something you love -- I’m not making that much money yet but working on my own web app with amazing invitation vendors makes me so happy that I don’t need a lot of money.
The experiences I went through have all shaped me into who I am and why I can launch and run my own website as a solo founder. It’s wonderful to know that, if I need to, I can accomplish anything I need to do in order to make sure my startup succeeds, and I hope others who have a dream won’t let lack of experience to ever stop them!
Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. Photo credit: Kseniya Thomas and Thomas-Printers Invitations.</> About the guest blogger: Tracy Osborn is the Founder of WeddingType. She is the creator of WeddingInviteLove, a curated directory of wedding invitation designers, and spends her time working on wedding-related web apps and communities. Prior to founding WeddingType, Tracy freelanced design and front-end development for startups. Offline, Tracy tries to spend as much time outdoors as possible, hiking and biking around the Bay Area. Follow her on Twitter at @limedaring and her startup at @weddingtype.