Pre-RailsConf Minneapolis meetup
My business, InfluenceKit, is at $9000 MRR and growing. But I wrote the first lines of code way back in 2010, and it took me eight years before I got anyone to pay for it. Here’s how I rescued this business idea from the trash heap, and why it’s never too late to (re)launch your idea.
In 2010, things were going great. I had a stable content business - Curbly - which brought in passive revenue and gave me lots of time to work on side projects, hang out with my family, and even work on my tennis game.
But as Curbly grew, I needed a tool to manage our content production process, and none of the tools I tried felt right. There was nothing optimized for what we did: creating content online across multiple channels, selling advertising and getting sponsorships.
I had an itch. So I scratched it. Before long I had built a tool my whole team used to plan our editorial calendar, collaborate on blog posts, even track our spending and manage contributor payments. It worked! It was streamlined! It was awesome!
I thought: “Maybe I should make this a product.” I spent a weekend adding multi-tenancy to the codebase and building a billing/subscriptions system (i.e. turning it into a SaaS product). I was psyched!
So I emailed a couple of people I knew from the blogging world to show them how it worked. I couldn't wait to hear how impressed they were!
But those demos came and went, and ... crickets. Nobody was impressed. No one had the same problems I did. They didn't see the same solutions. And they were busy with other priorities.
What did I do? Did I forge ahead, stubbornly refusing to accept defeat, cold-calling everybody I could, trying to make my dent in the universe and become the next Twitter-verse SaaS darling!?
Uh, no. I had a two-year old. And another business to run. And my backhand was pretty solid but my serve needed a lot of work. I took those negative first impressions and internalized them, telling myself a story that said "You've built something no one else wants."
And then I let it go. We kept on using the tool every day to run my business, and for years, I barely touched it. The product worked really well for us. But because I wasn’t engaged with a community of like-minded people, I couldn't see the demand in the market for a solution like mine.
(Above: commit history for InfluenceKit)
Then, in 2017, I changed course. I started cultivating relationships with people who worked in the same world I did. I started hosting meet ups at the Curbly office - free bagels and coffee for people who wanted to come chat about blogging, advertising, SEO, content marketing, etc. I even started cold-emailing local people I thought might be interesting to hang out with.
In no time, I had an invite to a quarterly lunch date with a few other entrepreneurs, and at one of those meetings, I started talking about the internal tool we used to manage my blog. They were impressed! They thought it was cool! One of them said: “You should show this to my friend. She runs a huge blog”.
That blogger tried it, and she loved it (she's been using InfluenceKit ever since)! I started connecting with more and more people, showing them the product, and improving the features based on their feedback.
Later than year I demoed a friend, and her response was so overwhelmingly positive that I brought her on as a co-founder. A few months later we met our other co-founder at a conference.
Suddenly, my abandoned side-project was resurrected!
The point I'm making is this: your idea is like a little plant. You provide the soil, you water the plant, but the sunlight needs to come from somewhere else. If you don't have a network of people who trust and support you, the chances are pretty slim that your idea will grow stronger.
In my case, I let nearly eight years go by without exposing InfluenceKit to the sunlight. It's amazing it survived as long as it did! Once I had a network to tap into, and after I connected with co-founders to help me, InfluenceKit really started to make progress. And that’s incredible, considering how long it sat, neglected, on the shelf.
So, if you haven't done the work of building up a peer group, I'm imploring you to start today. If you have an idea kicking around in the dust-bin – something you gave up on before it really had a chance – it's not too late to pick it up again. Maybe the timing will be better this time. Maybe you'll show it to someone whose response will give you the confidence to keep trying.
Find a group of people who are tilling the same soil, growing the same kinds of plants, as you are. Talk to them. Encourage their good ideas and redirect their bad ones. Listen to their feedback about what you're doing. Connect with people they know, and expand your network.
But most importantly: put your work out into the sunlight and give it a chance to grow.