Confessions of a reformed wantrepreneur

Co-founder Claff

Hi – I’m Claff. Nice to meet you!

Before I dish some dirt on my startup experience – here’s some background.

I’ve worked 15 different jobs in my 27 years. I’ve collected degrees like Pokemon – you gotta catch ‘em all! I’ve got 8 pieces of paper, from a Financial Planning Diploma through to an MBA. Just two months ago, I was an overpaid IT Project Manager. I took it easy.

I always had one thing eating away in the back of my mind.

“When are you going to grow some balls and start your own business?”

Was I a procrastinator? A wantrepreneur? A gonna-but-probably-never-would? Yes I was.

I had a growing list of excuses:

  • You need a better idea
  • You need more money in the bank
  • You need an MBA
  • You need <insert another ten excuses here>

Deep down, I knew that these excuses were bullshit.

  • If you execute an idea well, someone will probably pay you money for it
  • You can bootstrap yourself to profitability
  • That MBA money is probably better invested in a weekend to Vegas with your buddies

For me, accepting the reality that I could actually become an entrepreneur was like playing whack-a-mole. Remember this game?

whack

Before the days of XBOX 360 and PS3, you could visit an arcade and play Whack-a-Mole. Just like in a casino, the arcade always wins. And in life, another excuse always pops up when you think you’re ready to take the plunge.

I devoured startup books. I preached the Lean Startup principles. I heralded Tim Ferriss as a guru (and I still do – what’s up Tim? Why won’t you return my calls!?)

Sure, I ran a few half-assed side businesses and earned some money on the side last year. But I still had at least ten startup ideas that I never executed for one reason or another.

I just couldn’t take the leap. I made excuse after excuse.

My recent move to LA forced a change to this mindset. I was facing 3 months of unemployment because of my Visa.

Even though a cubicle of my very own with a bonus shiny red stapler is something to aspire to, I want to build a business.

stapler

And now is the perfect time. Without further ado, here are my musings about starting up (2 weeks in).

1. Find a co-founder who is on your level

Dan Norris is an enigma. He’s passionate but introverted. He built a web design agency without having any prior web design experience. He’s equal parts funny and self-deprecating. Here’s a timeline of how I stalked Dan.

Between July ‘12 and June ‘13, I sent Dan 7 emails about running a web design agency, asked him for some help and to checked in with how Informly was going. I subscribed to Dan’s blog and inhaled all of his content. Dan has a great fan base and I’m actually one of many people who check in with him on a semi-regular basis.

Then on July 9, I read this article and posted this comment…

claffcomments_1

I was not referring to myself as a ‘more established entrepreneur’.

Dan responded with this…

claff_comments_2

On July 14, Dan and I exchanged a few emails and then collaborated on a detailed co-founder interview – my response was 2800 words while Dan’s was 4000 – the guy loves content! We had a few Skype calls and quickly navigated through the awkwardness of pouring your heart out in a Google doc.

Funnily, we had both worked in the same company years before and we actually lived within 10 minutes of each other on the Gold Coast (but had never met).

On July 15, I sign up my first customer. Oh yeah!

claffcelebrating

Then reality sets in…

2. Startups are a grind and you’ll feel like a loser

The first thing I think about when I wake up is WP Curve. The last thing I think about before I go to sleep is WP Curve. Admittedly, I’ve dreamt about the Curve – that’s probably because we offer 24/7 service. I’m so lucky to have an understanding wife – I love you Brittany!

When you earn a nice salary, you take your ability and value as givens. You have expectations. Entitlements, even. As an employee – when I clocked off for the day, I shut down. This simply does not happen in a startup. You’re always on. If you’re not winning, you’re losing. If you’re not selling, you’ll start to think your idea sucks. You need to go all out, every single day.

 

“If you’re not selling, you’ll start to think your idea sucks. You need to go all out, every single day” <– CLICK TO TWEET THIS

Felix Dennis said it best:

“Try for just a single day, a whole day when you refuse to acknowledge fear of failure, fear of making yourself look like an idiot, fear of losing your lover, fear of losing your job, fear of your boss, fear of anything and of any kind. Fear will creep back, usually at three in the morning. Laugh at it and tell it to take a hike. Smash it in the teeth. Spit on it. Put your arms round it and make nicey-nicey. Then slip a sharp blade into its stinking throat just as you’re French-kissing it.”

3. Sign up some customers and treat them like gold

Blonde perm + Turquoise singlet = Sales. Right, Craig?

Blonde perm + Turquoise singlet = Sales. Right, Craig?

I argue that being an excellent salesperson is the key to business success. Whether you’re great at building relationships, writing amazing sales copy or promoting yourself – you have to sell something.

So, why the hell is the mysterious art of sales never taught during school? I’ve blown more than $80k on education and the only person who explained sales was my Financial Modeling lecturer. He loved regression models. Variance. Standard deviation. Multivariate something something.

He also looked like Craig McLachlan, which for any Australian is mildly entertaining.

I digress. You need to sell. If you’re not, you’re sleeping. Or blogging (oops). One way or another, you need to pay the bills. Before you get too carried away, remember that you have to look after #1. No – not yourself, you dork. Your existing customers are priority #1.

4. Memes FTW – LOLZ

Yeah, we’ve got a pitch deck. We’re serious about taking this business all the way. The deck includes this meme, which identifies the problem that WP Curve solves.

wpcurve_rage

Dan put together a word from our sponsor:

jigga

And because we’re 24/7 – Dan put this one together too.

wp_curve_never_sleeps

5. Want to be profitable? Grow a beard.

beardThere has to be a big incentive for hitting profitability, but it can’t be something lame.

I researched what other startups have done. Restricting your diet? Hmm… I guess I could go for pizza and beer only. Sobriety? I’m already three glasses deep.

Restrictive targets are lame, so we agreed to grow beards until we made our first dollar after expenses.

We hit profitability on the 19th of July (even with Dan’s discount rates). That’s a big deal – we went from $0 revenue to ramen profitable in 23 days.

The only downside is that I really, really wanted a ZZ Top beard.

Instead of dropping a down payment on a corporate jet,we invested our profit on our new developer, Benji. We’re putting him to work on some fun stuff that our customers love, including WP Curve’s homegrown WordPress plugins. More details about our plugins later!

6. Hunt some elephants

I’m not referring to the oxygen thieves who kill majestic jungle animals. I’m referring to Wall Street for the second time. In the original, remember Bud Fox when Gordon Gekko places his first order?

 

I bagged the elephant!

That sense of elation is the same as when a well respected start-up icon sees value in your idea and gives you critical feedback for improvement.

Remember that pitch deck? We’re putting it to use. We’re not going to drop names – because that’s not cool.

We’re very grateful that our idols are making the time for us and we’re taking action on the feedback. Right now.

7. Do some damn work

Even though it’s Sunday night, I should be working. And it’s time I took my own advice.

Let me know how you’ve overcome your own start-up demons in the comments.

About

Hi, I'm Alex McClafferty. I'm the co-founder of WP Curve.

  • James Norquay

    Good post, it is hard to leave an XXX,XXX paying job to start from scratch, I have done the same in the past. That is why I advise people to start the project before you leave and make sure that you at least have a few clients before you make the jump.

    • http://inform.ly/ Dan Norris

      Hey James. I’ve personally never been a fan of this advice. What’s the worst case scenario? As if Claff won’t be able to get another job. Companies will be belting down his door if the curve doesn’t work out.

      The problem is, there’s no incentive to get a few clients when you have a good job. Some people just need to go for it 100%….. Like Batman. You saw the last Batman movie right? With the rope etc?

      That’s how it feels to me. You either commit or you don’t. If you won’t fully commit it won’t work. If you do, it might.

      • James Norquay

        True in some ways but many start ups start as an idea in spare time and then develop to a full project. The thing is with me is I always run side projects even before I got into a full time job, who would turn away an additional X,XXX income a month which involves limited work. It is never about not liking the job you can love it but if you have spare time you can always make even more income in your spare time.

        • http://www.wpcurve.com/ Alex McClafferty

          Hey James – thought I’d jump on here. I agree that side income is nice, but personally – I didn’t get into this startup to get rich. Of course that would be nice…

          I do have my eye on a Ferrari.

        • JervisWhitley

          There is nothing like the rush of going all in mate.

          • http://www.wpcurve.com Alex McClafferty

            Hey Jervis – it explains why this business has taken over my life! I’m loving every second of it.

  • http://blog.writethat.name/ Brad Patterson @ Kwaga

    Great read. Love the story of how you cofounders were a part of a virtual community at first and then took the next step.

    Startups are indeed a grind and you need to choose your team very wisely. Best to you all with the venture ahead. Cheers, Brad

    • http://www.wpcurve.com Alex McClafferty

      Thanks Brad. You certainly need to wear all hats, while you’re grinding away!

  • Pingback: Startup pricing - Our failed marketplace experimentthedannorris

  • Marc Diaz

    Great to see that this story is fresh and still being written. Looking forward to some more chapters – good and bad.

    I hate to sound like an internet marketer (I’m not one, just a closet consumer of their content) but sometimes it takes life events (moving to LA) to force you to take action. Love it.

    I’m about to take action myself and look forward to off loading some tech headache to wpcurve.