What startup traction (aka hype) feels like
[This is the first story in a weekly series that brings you raw, first-hand experiences from founders and investors in the trenches. Their story submissions are anonymous, allowing them to share openly without fear of retribution. More stories can be found on StartupsAnonymous, a place for startups to share, ask questions, and answer them in story-length posts, all anonymously. One anonymous submission each week will be chosen for this series.]
When what you’re doing is validated by new signups, social endorsement, enthusiasm, press and massive interest, it’s incredible. You begin to truly believe what you’ve been telling yourself all along — that this is going to be a wild success. It’s almost surreal when it’s happening. You feel unstoppable to some degree.
You get unsolicited emails from people you’ve never met, just to say how great your idea is. You get people offering their talents to you at no cost, just so they can be involved. Investors start to cold contact you (which is a contradiction to the warm intro they normally require). Press begins to snowball, and one piece leads to another.
You become wanted and desired. You get requested to speak at venues and your feedback is valued. Your network size increases exponentially.
It’s all overwhelming and extremely exciting.
Then there’s the other side of the coin.
Traction is addicting, but not necessarily in a good way. Press attention is like crack (so I’d imagine). The high is short-lived and as soon as it wears off you want more. You start to fabricate and lie, just to get it.
With more users comes more responsibility. Shit gets real so-to-speak. You begin to feel the pressure of needing to execute flawlessly in order to not disappoint a soul. You spend an immense amount of time communicating with your advocates, which takes your focus off of executing flawlessly.
The haterade cooler gets dumped over your head. This stings at first, but eventually you begin to see how an opposing opinion benefits you. In the beginning, it takes every ounce of you not to fall into the trap of tearing these fools apart. As it continues, your skin starts to thicken and it becomes somewhat of an expected norm. However, no matter how thick of a shell you have, it always hurts.
You begin to feel extremely nervous about missing a window. You don’t know where that window is or how long it will be there, but you know it exists. You want to capitalize with the perfect revenue approach and capture as much of it while the getting is good. Every day that goes by without revenue is a missed opportunity. The stress mounts and nothing you do is fast enough.
You start to over-analyze every word you speak and every decision you make. The stakes seem too high to make any stupid errors. When you do make a mistake, it feels devastating.
Eventually, the excitement fades and reality sets in. You’re not immortal and people have short attention spans. You wish the honeymoon would continue, but that’s not how the startup world works. You realize that you need to build a sustainable business, not a hype machine.
“A great ad campaign will make a bad product fail faster” – Bill Bernbach