By Maren Kate (Founder, Zirtual) Behind every startup, there is a string of stories. Some stories are sad, some stories are funny, and most are a mixture of both. My story started like something out of a Bukowski novel.
On a baking hot summer evening I sat straddling a bar stool, planted in front of a fan at the local dive where I tended bar. Cigarette smoke choked the air and the soft sounds of video poker chirped in celebration when someone hit a flush. Occasionally one of the gamblers, or truckers, or industry folk fresh off a 12 hour shift would holler at me to pour them another drink. I’d reluctantly leave my “work” to do my “job”.
As quickly as possible I’d return to my pile of receipt paper sketches, crumpling one version up to start fresh on another. I was forming the plan for one of a hundred business ideas I would come up with during those long hours of tending bar. I was always coming up with new business ideas, whether it was a t-shirt company or a mint farm, my mind rarely rested throughout my adolescence and early adulthood. I knew that my dreams weren't impossible because I had the hunger like no one I knew. I was also smart enough to realize that I’d have to sift through a thousand junk ideas before I found the one I could really get behind and fall in love with.
One day, I realized that to reach audacious goals, I'd have to make audacious, risky choices, so I sold my meager post-college possessions and moved to San Francisco on a whim. I didn’t know a soul and I had no reason to believe I’d succeed except for the innate knowledge that I’d do anything to “make it” in Silicon Valley.
I moved to San Francisco with the clothes on my back and stayed in hostels for almost 4 months before I could finally afford a place. I was told by countless people for the first 6 months that my business idea needed a lot of work, and that I would be crippled by my lack of skill as a coder. Instead of giving up I put my head down and worked towards the vision I believed in. I built Zirtual on the idea that every busy person needs a dedicated assistant to help them with their day-to-day tasks and to free up their precious time. Twelve months later, we’re almost there.
Today I’m writing this from Zirtual’s headquarters in the financial district. In 12 months, long days of hard work and non-stop persistence have finally started to pay off. We don’t have swanky digs, but it’s nice and it’s ours. We have paying customers and have been steadily growing in the past month.
My Startup Lessons Learned
- No Entrepreneur Is An Island -- Zirtual was a good idea before Collin and Erik joined, and it had some traction. But the amount of evolution, excitement, and growth we've experienced in the last few months, as a team, has been absolutely astronomical -- it is night and day. Find one or two other people who are passionate, dedicated and motivated. When you've got this, you'll be ready to take your startup to the next level. No entrepreneur is an island.
- Validate Through Users -- Not every business has a $X for Y model, but I tend to like those types of businesses better. The reason being, when you charge for something, you find out really fast whether or not your idea is a good one. If people pay, you're onto something. If people don't, you're back to the drawing board.
- Bootstrap -- Even if you don't have to, bootstrap in your early days. Often, you can't get investor money when you're just starting out, so use this time to create a great product -- charge money for it, get traction, show metrics, and prove your model before you even think about a penny of someone else's cash. Not only will this allow you to make a bunch of your mistakes early on, but it will put you in a better position when and if you do decide to raise money.
Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Maren Kate is the founder of Zirtual, a virtual concierge company based out of San Francisco. She has been blogging about entrepreneurship for years on Escaping The 9 To 5 which was started to document Maren's own "escape" from traditional employment into the world of startups. Maren's passion is helping other would-be founders to break out of the 9 to 5 mold and to build a business they can be proud of. Follow her on Twitter at @marenkate.