Start-up truisms that are, well, true

Picture of fairiesThe very first month I started this blog, four years ago, I wrote a short post, Tinkerbelle visits The Julia Group. I said that after twenty years of writing grants for other people, I made a wish just for me, as Tinkerbelle said. I sent off a grant to create an on-line high school algebra course that integrated Web 2.0 technology. In the ancient history of the web, that sounded pretty cool at the time. I said that if it did not get funded, I would submit it again until it did.

Fast forward … as anything you read about start-ups will say, the business you end up with will be very different from the one you envisioned. Well, I did not get that first grant but I got several other grants and contracts. While taking the work that paid the bills, I met with potential clients, met with potential investors, met with potential collaborators, revised my ideas A LOT.

I toyed with the idea of using Ruby and decided that as cool as Ruby is, it wouldn’t do. Then, I picked up javascript, learned enough of that to decide that jQuery and javascript would be a good part of the solution. Along the way, I wrote a program in SAS to do text analysis, just to see if the logic would work. I wrote bits and pieces of the program in javascript, including something my daughter termed, “Angry Birds with a buffalo”. Now the rocket scientist is working on doing a major part of it using something else.

So, the first truism turned out to be true. The product we are developing is different in design, language and age group targeted than what I began with.

The second point I can vouch for from the Startup Genome project is that you are better off not going it alone. I went to a few meet-ups and other events, met a lot of people, but no one who seemed to share the same commitment I do. (When you’re young you talk about passion. When you’re old, you’re looking for commitment.) Speaking of which, while I would not go so far as to recommend sleeping with someone and having his baby to find a co-founder, since  I had already done it with someone my students’ referred to as “Computer God” and my children called “Code Warrior” ,  I figured I may as well get something out of it – well other than the sex and the baby.

When the rocket scientist retired and was thinking about doing work part-time for consulting income, I was first in line to snatch him up. He is writing the part that is not in JavaScript (for now).

The third true truism is that a start-up will eat your life. Although I have been in business for 27 years, we started to go in a different trajectory in 2008, when The Julia Group split off from Spirit Lake Consulting, Inc. and became a separate company. I guess this makes me a serial entrepreneur. Better than a serial killer, I suppose, though I am not sure it is any better for your social life. Our new product is a game to teach mathematics. Yes, there are a million of those out there, but I promise you, ours will not suck. This is our competitive advantage.

I lose track of what day it is very, very often. Especially now that The Spoiled One is on spring break, there is no difference between my weekends and weekdays. I have to force myself to go to bed at night.  I have put on a few pounds because I have been sitting at my computer day in and day out for months. Of course, since I wasn’t much bigger than your average twelve-year-old in the first place, I’m not stressing over it, but it just shows you how extreme things have gotten around here.

The fourth truism that turned out to be true is that if you keep working on it, even if you fail at first, you will make something. So … we now have $99,000 for our Phase I, test school sites set up that I will be visiting in a few weeks. Things are starting to take shape. We also have a second proposal under review.

If you are thinking $99K is not a lot, you are right. Here’s my fifth perhaps not so self-evident truth – sometimes, as Paul Hawken has said, the biggest problem with small businesses is that they have too much money. That may sound crazy, but I have always tried to keep overhead to the bare minimum. Almost everyone who works for us is a contractor, which means we pay them when we have work and when we don’t have work for them to do, we don’t pay them. I’m not too worried about being first to market – I see how well that worked out for VisiCalc and Netscape. I’ve way too much experience to think that you can do a project twice as fast with six programmers as with three. After 27 years, I still have an office in my house. When I meet people, I usually go to lunch – there are a whole lot of really nice restaurants in Santa Monica.

Because we saved up money to “retire” and I have consulting clients to pay the bills, we have been working for free for months. (Well, not exactly free. I own the company.) So getting paid for half of our time is a big step up, as well as being able to pay for supplies, data collection and a whole lot of other things.

Well, it’s 11 pm and I have to get back to work but here is one last truism that is totally true – I am having the time of my life.


And just to make life even better, I received an email from BlogHer saying, “We loved this post” and that it would be featured in their tech section on April 18. Since I’ll be en route to SAS Global Forum on April 18, I’m putting up my bragging badge now.

Speaking of SAS Global Forum, the pre-registration deadline is April 16th, so if you were procrastinating, time is about up. If you use SAS at all and live anywhere in the area, you should really register and head out there. It’s an especially good deal if you are a student or in an academic institution. Go. You’ll be glad you did.

If you ARE going to be there, there is a meet-up on Saturday. Email me if you’re interested or DM me on Twitter, @annmariastat since I have been told that only old people use email.

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