May 29, 2013

From Side Project to Successful Startup

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Designed around simplicity and intuition, easily track your deals and relationships. Stride is a different kind of CRM. Follow us on Twitter or on the Stride BlogKevin is the growth guy at Stride, focused on organically scaling with a minimal budget.


From Side Project to Successful Startup 

Startups are fun, there’s no doubt about that. However, simply working for a startup, and creating your own, are two VERY different endeavors.  Stride started as a passion project, then quickly transformed in to a full-on push towards startup-dom.

Building a successful side project requires a combination of things. These things evolve as you progress towards the product launch.In the beginning, it will be very idea and development focused. As this moves on, the need will shift towards a little bit of business. When launch comes, the business side will play a huge part in your initial reception, and how you do in your next few months. However, the need for development will never slow. The key is to have business folk who understand engineering and development, and developers who see the importance of the business and marketing side. It’s a fine balance, this is why some people say startups are mostly luck.


In The Beginning

Many success stories come from products being built out of need. Whether it is your personal need, or a need in the market, understanding what you’re building is absolutely key.

Stride started with an idea, a need, for a ‘CRM’ tool that didn’t suck. All of us saw that need for our day jobs, and we all had product ideas to drive development. But, not only did we want to build a tool for ourselves, we wanted to build it for everyone to use. So over time, we discussed what we wanted in a product, and came up with a feature set for an MVP, a Minimum Viable Product.

Once you have a team on the same page, an idea, and a feature set for an MVP, it’s go time.


The Side Project Wrinkle 

With Stride, there was a bit of an unconventional wrinkle in the way that we pursued the idea. We loved the idea, but we also loved our day jobs. We were fortunate enough to work at a company (Moz) that encouraged the entrepreneurial spirit and allowed us to release Stride as a side project, and continue iterating from there.

So, that’s what we did. We launched Stride, after a series of caffeine and pizza fueled weekends. We built the product in such a way that it would be as scalable as possible, in an effort to allow us to maintain the service as a side project — which is what we’ve done to this day.

Nearly a year later, we continue to crank on Stride as a side project, supporting tens of thousands of users, devoting evenings, weekends, and every free moment we have.


Budget and Time

The majority of your time and budget will be opportunity cost. I really don’t recommend creating a side project ‘for the money’. Because unless you are dedicated and passionate about what you’re doing, you’ll be disappointed in the initial return. Treat it as a learning tool, something you don’t get to do during your day job.

Development time is expensive, in one way or another. When building your MVP, use as many things that currently exist, whether it is code, platforms, or build-ins. Time is the most expensive asset. Depending on how complex your product is, you can do this over a couple weekends. However, post launch, you will want to devote time towards evolving your product, and engaging with your customers.

And that’s what I did. Because I saw that Stride had the ability to grow, and it had an excellent team behind it, I now focus on Stride full time. Pushing for the next chunk of customers, and pushing for the next milestone. All of us continue to devote time towards Stride, the only way we can continue with pushing is to blog off chunks of our calendar and just go heads-down. Those caffeine and pizza fueled weekends still creep up on us, and we even find ourselves working on those rare sunny Seattle days (some of us even got sunburned, last time). And with stride growing so fast, we added beer to the mix, to take that edge off.


Reasons For Not Seeking Funding (Right away, at least)

If you have the technical ability and the business acumen to launch your product, and gain good initial exposure and response. You really have no immediate reason to seek funding. Unless your server and supporting platform costs are overwhelming, try to stay bootstrapped for a good while.

The primary reason for this is that you don’t have to leave your day job, and you won’t have someone peering over your shoulder, pushing you in a certain direction. I would state that side projects almost always coincide with being bootstrapped. We play by feel, we’ll do the things that are beneficial in more than just a numbers way. I spend late nights and weekends planning strategy, blogging, engaging on Twitter, and sometimes even work on the product. That’s the beauty of side projects, your results can come from anywhere, and that little bump is enough push to keep you going. A board or VC won’t see it the same way.

Remaining bootstrapped can be beneficial as well. When time is scarce, you’re forced to only work on the most impactful things, whether it is bug fixes or new features. At Stride, we leave the ideation side completely up to our customers, they tell us what to build next, and if we like it, we run with it.

What Happens Next

Your launch will be key in determining how well you do. If you’ve created a functional, beautifully designed product that people see worth in, things will snowball from there. The only deciding factor is whether you can devote the time in continuing to grow it.

However, the truth is that your chances of failing are greater than your chance of succeeding. But, if you took it easy, and treated this as a side project. You’ll only be out time, and a tiny bit of operational costs. But you’ll have gained a ton of knowledge in the process. Figure out why you failed, if it’s worth saving, do it. If not, just scrap the project and do something else (or sell it, if someone wants it).

Stride has been immensely successful as a side project, we continue to learn what works and what doesn’t, a lot of it is luck, but most of it is perseverance. One thing will work in the beginning, and it won’t work later on. We don’t let these things drag us down and stop us from finding new ways to grow. 

It’s a startup eat startup world. Good luck out there!

Read more about Stride on the Stride Blog.

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