In your free moments, what do you think about? For many people there is a lingering idea, an interest attached to a "what if". What separates the average person from an entrepreneur is not genius, it's action.
I am an average guy from a small resort town in Montana who had an idea, then an experiment...now an all consuming burning in my soul. All starting on the collapse of a rapidly growing and previously successful business. With a few hundred dollars, creditors calling and the stress of "what now", I went to work. This is the experience of how I scaled a product from nothing to something.
This blog post was written by Microsoft BizSpark member Jerry Reynolds, founder of Plandree, who will be showcasing his startup at TechCrunch Disrupt Startup Alley this April 29. Plandree is a social planning calendar for your vacations.
Lesson 1: Stop talking and get to work
After attending a few meetings with local leaders, I bravely state "stop fighting with each other, you're not even competing, your not seeing the big picture." I was promptly attacked for being a "stupid young kid who didn't know anything" and to never come back. It was that moment, I knew my idea could work. Over the next two months I built version one and within 3 months, I had created the most used resource in the area. All too often entrepreneurs try to validate their idea for far too long, soliciting opinions from those who don't want you to succeed or are too scared to try. It has been more than 7 years and just last week while explaining what I do, someone said "there was a person doing something like that a few years ago but no one ever knew who he was."
Lesson 2: Solo, who cares just go
The key to early success was starting. It doesn't matter where you start, just start. Build as fast and as hard as possible, for as long as possible. The value of an experiment is not who approves of it or who uses it or who talks about it. The value is that someone simply can use or talk about it.
Lesson 3: Small victories
I created my vision and promptly sold the domains...with the full understanding that I was keeping the data, users and customers and would be expanding under a new name. I was paid to "we don't care what you plan on doing, just go away and do it somewhere else". Never underestimate your small victories, they WILL be the reason you win.
Lesson 4: The horse belongs in front of the buggy, not dragging behind it
My premise was that every resort destination faced the same challenges. I selected 5 for my second experiment but how do I get customers? The easy way was Google AdWords...$300 spent, no return. This was a great lesson: you can't depend on customers to come to you, you have to go to them. My competitors were very kind, they made their providers phone numbers conveniently available to their users and I used it. I started searching phone numbers to find associated email addresses via Bing and Google. Those with an email went in one document, those without in another. 25,000 numbers, 11,650 email addresses in total. Then built a simple email campaign for each destination and made contact. I still have not made the first phone call to sign a customer.
Lesson 5: The Formula
No one wants to be first: first to pay for a site with no one using or the first listing. So where is the threshold between "I don't want to be first" and "If I wait it will be too late"? When we hit 5 listings in a new destination, it would become 20 within 2 weeks, almost like clockwork. And every week we were adding at least one new destinations at $55 per listing. We were moving and fast!
Lesson 6: Be Bold, Be Brave
18 months had gone past, I finally figured it out. One man, one idea, now in 126 of the most popular destinations in 44 countries around the world. I was making money. But the business had shifted from the original goal of helping people explore the world around them. I yearned to refocus on my original idea and in July of 2012, I was selected to participate in the Betaspring Accelerator to do just that. Don't be afraid to follow your instincts, no matter how they deviate from your current path. Be wise and do what is best for long term success, regardless of the short term pain.
Lesson 7: What will you do when you want to give up, because you will want to give up!
There have been time when I wanted to move on, only to realize that I loved this idea too much. I loved its potential too much. It has been those moments when I re-re -re-recommitted to my company that I have had the greatest breakthroughs and largest gains of success. Its nature's way of asking "How bad do you want it and what are you willing to do about it!?".
After all this work, after all this time, Plandree is finally set to makes its debut April 29th at TechCrunch Disrupt. My final piece of advice is my first piece of advice. Stop talking, it doesn't matter, get back to work. It has been told to me by my mentors and some of the world's most well-known entrepreneurs. I pass it on to you. Now, go get it!