Getting Too Big For Your Start Up Britches

Too much of today’s web content is made up of what I’d consider hype pieces. “Case studies” filled with all the ways growth hacking 10x’d someone’s business. An e-course that shines a light on those “3 weird tricks” that ensure the success of your start up. In an ongoing personal effort to balance the internet’s rose-colored instagram filter, I’m starting a series where I’m being honest about mistakes I made (and am still making) along the way.

Today in “Mistakes Were Made”… Getting Too Big for Your Start Up Britches…

When I started Horse and the Rook a year ago, I made a boo boo. I got too big for my britches. I looked far, faaar into the future, and started planning for every contingency. Good business right? A true strategist? Eh. Not so much.

Gobs of Customers

I spent a lot of time, carefully making sure my servers could handle the gobs of customers I’d surely cater to. After all, I didn’t want to have this thing come crashing down at the most inopportune time ya know? Wrong. Turns out, I maxed out at about 30k customers, well within the capabilities of a far less complex, and expensive set of servers.

I had great foresight on making sure that I was prepared for a massive influx of customers, but I did little preparation on who my customers even were, or how I’d get them to these high-performance servers I’d set up. Turns out, after a few months of my flagship product Gusto being out in the wild, I learned a lot about my customers and my market. I learned that there weren’t that many iPads out the world yet, which meant there wasn’t much traffic to my servers. I also learned that as sales of the iPad steadily increased, so did my customer base… and you guessed it, so did my server usage, in a very predictable way actually. In retrospect, had I opted for a dead simple, low-fi server set up, I would have saved time, and precious start up dollars, and exactly nothing would have changed. At one point, I think I actually heard my servers yawn at my traffic.

Appearing Professional

Days after I launched the mobile version of Gusto, I started fielding support tickets. Luckily, I had gotten set up with Desk for handling support. The problem? The first time I ever needed the power of ticketing, was when I launched Gusto Mobile, which means I had been paying for the help desk software for over a year without really needing it. In hindsight, I got too big for my britches. I spent a year paying for software that was way overkill for my little startup with one employee and one product. Was it helpful in the end? Sure, it became invaluable as my product offering and customer base expanded. Was it helpful in the beginning? No. I could’ve just as easily offered up my direct email address, and saved myself the learning curve of the software, and again, the precious start up dollars I was whisking away to Desk before I had even turned a profit myself. Rookie mistake… don’t do it. Instead, get connected to your customers. Like _really_ connected. Especially the early ones. They want to hear from you, and you should want to hear from them. They’ll help you shape your product, and be the ones paying your bills… don’t add the complexity of support tickets to the mix, and don’t pay for something you don’t absolutely need.

Now What?

These days, having made the mistakes, I take pride on squeezing the most out of my tooling, and my time. When I start a new project, or advise my consulting clients, I always kick it off the same. I focus on what’s happening now, instead of what might happen later. I pay for the lowest tier of the Adobe suite. I run on inexpensive servers. I email customers directly. And I do it all on a 4 year old laptop that I got used.

In the end, these mistakes needlessly cost me thousands of precious, early start up dollars, and even more in time that I could’ve better spent serving my customers, and improving my product.