Something that hasn't been mentioned too much on this blog is the startup that I helped to co-found with close friends and with a close business partner over a year ago. And with the beginning of Y Combinator's Startup School this week, I think it's time for a story. A story about 5 guys looking for something some time ago, an idea, and a random meeting on a random work lunch break as we hid from our project manager. And what happened after. So join me on this tale of technology mixed with uncertainty mixed with curiosity and many many more words in between that has lead to what is now my full-time job.
How it all started
Our startup began over a year ago almost to the date. At least the work portion did. The idea is much much older. And it belongs to our business partner Chris Sheng. Chris is the founder of SimpleTux and many many more projects and products that you can read over at his website. The rest of the team and I also began much much earlier than Renly did as well. We are a ragtag team of programmers that met at work, like many other members of startups. Some of us worked together close to a year before we decided to seek for "out of office" business ventures. And some us have known each other for over half a decade now.
We didn't set out to create a startup initially. We set out to get away from the office for some time. To take some odd programming jobs, meet some people, and have a few extra bucks for lunch and movies on a Saturday. Some of us set out for that extra income, and some of us just joined on a whim hoping that something entertaining would happen. And entertaining, it kind of is. But in a very different way than we would have expected. It's definitely not the "Social Network" type of entertaining. And it isn't the "20 hour a day typing underground with energy drinks" entertaining either. It's the "this is cool. What happens now?" kind of entertaining where every day is new, uncertain and fresh. We all have over a decade of experience in programming and design. So adding a new checkout page, or creating a new feature for our users don't require a "grind" really. Maybe that's because we're all in our 30's, some married, some not and we realize code is awesome, but it's not everything for a project.
We met our business partner on a co-founders website and set up a meeting to discuss ideas and potential partnerships. The first meeting was uneasy and everyone agreed up front on that fact. The 2nd meeting was much looser. And by the 3rd meeting, we had brought in somebody else to get the ball rolling. That first month is mentally straining as one begins to take on the realization that there's a @%#& ton of work to do and we all have full-time jobs. Do we bail at this point and nothing is lost? Many do. But the weekly meetings helped to keep the momentum going. By the second month, we had a database designed and a shell of a project up and running for us to play around with.
We can't tell time
Uncertainty is life. Nothing is guaranteed. Maybe you'll come close, on some coincidence. But for the most part, you're going to miss the target each and every time. And that couldn't be truer for us, as we missed every self-made deadline known to man. MVP in 3 months? Sure why not. Going live in 5? Maybe? A million users by March? Possible. But if life were that certain, then we wouldn't work hard and it would be kind of dull really. Fortunately for us, it is not that and missed deadlines and opportunities just mean more room for learning and growth. Each time we continued on and didn't let these "disappointments" or challenges if you will get in the way. If anything, we just learned that these things take time and that the path is best left in its own uncertainty as it sort of dictates itself out.
So it's best not to think about it in terms of time, otherwise, you won't get anywhere. We thought of it in terms of features. Each new feature sort of gave life to the next. And then the next. And that method has worked just fine so far. Or so it seems. One can never tell with these things. But the river is still flowing, that is for certain. Fewer deadlines are made. And the ones that are made are more loosely set and are used mainly to steer the ship a bit, but not to force it in a straight line. But total market domination by next week isn't in our field of vision. It's very much welcomed, yes, but the ship doesn't stop if that is not met.
Startups are incredibly random
That's the only word that I can use to describe being a part of a startup. Random. Some weeks are amazing and you're getting all kinds of feedback from users. And other weeks are dead silent. And those users you thought you had have found other websites to be distracted by. Some weeks you realize that half of your code didn't work to begin with. Those are interesting weeks. And that's because people are random. 5 people. 5 family groups. 5 ways to generate income to eat and live indoors. And 1 project that will take the brunt force of that. Add to that hundreds of users that each want something completely different and you're looking at a daunting challenge.
you will need to learn to love daunting challenges
Some weeks are incredibly busy for some members. Other's are pretty uneventful while data is being analyzed. Some weeks are fun, as the data looks good and plans for future features start to come into view. And others are less fun as you undo each one of those features because they didn't work. And you can't predict a single one of those moments. It's randomly spontaneous. That would be the best way to describe it. But even in the randomness, there is a sort of order. An order that still allows room for growth and maturity. Both for the project and for those involved in the project.
Startups aren't really a sacrifice
Some people think that working on the weekends and into the late night hours is a "sacrifice". Which is why many people avoid startups and that culture in general. Maybe you won't be going out on Friday nights to drink with the buddies like you used to. And maybe you'll miss a birthday or two. Maybe you'll cut back on your work hours to spend more time on the project and so you'll have to cut back on your Faberge egg collection. But this isn't a sacrifice by any means. Because that time isn't wasted and it doesn't vanish. It get's focused elsewhere. Maybe you won't be discussing current online conspiracy theories, but in that time you'll be learning about the latest trends in Augmented Reality. You'll be looking at societal issues more closely and thinking up solutions with a close team of like-minded individuals.
What is Renly
Renly is an idea still. And it's finding its way in this society just as the rest of us are. It changes daily, hourly, sometimes just weekly. But it's growing still. It isn't what it started out as by a long shot. So we don't really know what Renly will become just yet. Just as Amazon started with books only in mind, and then tackled every single product imaginable. The best way I can describe it, is that it is a potential future in which you can work the way that you want, when you want and from where you want. Where your skills are your own and you can use them how you will and physical locations are just conveniences rather than requirements. But it's also the story of 5 individuals trying to navigate through this thing we call life with laptops in hand and years of experience in technical creation.
Taking part in Startup School this week, however, has been eye-opening and enlightening. It's refreshing to see that your group isn't the only one facing the challenges that you once thought impossible. And even more eye-opening seeing how others can tackle the problems in their own ways to find their own solutions. There's a comfort in the fact that you're part of an even larger community looking to change and to improve the way that we navigate through our day to day lives using technology.
If you're interested in hearing more about the startup life and the many challenges it brings, and the many benefits as well, feel free to leave a comment to the left. Ask any questions and I will do my best to provide an answer. And hopefully, you enjoyed this look into a world that many times gets overly glamorized for the wrong reasons and get's shunned away for the right reasons.
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Walter G. is a software engineer with over 10 years of professional experience. When he isn't blogging or being a CTO he enjoys coding randomly complex things that he hopes many people will get a chance to use one day.