What a week running a startup looks like

Startups are a roller coaster. Everyone says that, but on HN all you generally see are big success stories and the occasional shutting-down story that is light on details. I want to give you a little glimpse at what life can really be like running a startup.

The following events happened to me within a single week last summer while running my startup Curvio, a site that finds fashion items from TV shows. I didn’t record the days of each event, just the approximate order.

  1. YAY! CNBC and Y! Finance articles. Two articles come out that did a profile piece on the site and me personally. Traffic surges about 8x.

  2. WTF! Google organic traffic plunges 50% inexplicably. At this point, about 95% of our traffic is derived from organic Google search traffic.

  3. Sigh… No feedback from a huge email list of industry contacts. Having created a product demo video for some new features, we requested feedback from our business contacts. No one has replied.

  4. Argh! Family drama. Someone is getting divorced. Long phone calls ensue.

  5. Screw it. Company is shutting down. We are losing about $1500 of our own money every month. We can’t seem to get growth and I am not very motivated anymore. My co-founder has also just gotten a new job in NYC at SideTour and his love for Curvio is waning.

  6. Allons-y! Company reborn at the last second. We decide we can’t let the site go, but we need to make drastic changes. We devise a plan to shutter 90% of costs and push more monetization.

  7. Ugh. C&D letter for trademark infringement. A competitor sends a Cease and Desist letter about our tagline infringing on their trademark. A few months ago when we launched, they had only used it in their footer, so we never saw it. They have since launched a redesign with it featured prominently. We brainstorm up a new (better, IMO) tagline.

  8. :( Drastic cutbacks. We have an entire team for both snapshots and shopping content. Unfortunately, I now have to abruptly end contracts for 9 people and slash hours for others.

  9. Ouch. Family illness. Someone has a terminal illness. Long phone calls and tears ensue.

  10. OMG! AWS down, during a deep Googlebot crawl. A ton of new content is being indexed when AWS dies. Since we are tracking shows as they come out, being indexed efficiently is crucial for us.

  11. $$$ Adbrite added to the site. As part of our increased focused on monetization, we apply for an Adbrite account and start to incorporate some banner ads into the site.

  12. $$$ Adbrite account rejected. No real reason, just rejected. We have no idea why.

  13. YES! Several brands sign up for our new platform. The previous week we introduced a feature where brands can sign up for a special account that allows them to add their own products directly to our site. A number of brands see the profile article on CNBC and reach out. We successfully sign up 5 brands for beta accounts.

  14. NO! Several days go by without any brand using the platform. Everyone who signed up and sounded super excited just never adds anything. We talk with them and they basically say they are just too busy. Side note: over the coming weeks we tried lots of things and we just couldn’t find a way to get them to work with us, forcing us to abandon the platform.

  15. STOPPPP! Tons of our pages are dead ends. Due to a bug, 20% of our content is 404’ing for a few days. Great way to kill your user base.

  16. Whew! Adbrite account manually approved. We finally get someone at customer service to override the auto-reject we got.

  17. Seriously?! AWS down (again). Just when we are getting a little traffic clawing back from the buggy 404s and mysterious Google referral drop, AWS dies again.

This was a crazy week, but only because everything happened in such short intervals. The swings never stop. Adbrite recently decided to close, forcing us to find a new ad network. AWS has gone down lots of times since then. We gave up again, stopped producing content, and then three weeks later our CNBC article was picked up and put on the front page of Yahoo!, driving 500k pageviews in 24 hours. The list goes on and on…

The point is that nothing in startup life is as simple or one-sided as it may seem when you read an HN or TC article. It’s not all “we had success after success” nor is it “we tried everything and it just wasn’t working.” Stick with it through the dips and you just might find a sustainable business model.

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  1. Yup. Agreed. This weekend I let the running of my startup get better of me. Glad to read of someone having a similar rollercoaster ride.


  2. NO, It’s not all “we had success after success” nor is it “we tried everything and it just wasn’t working.”

    3 quotes. 1 idea.

    “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it’s stupid.” -Albert Einstein

    “A good solution applied with vigor NOW is better than a perfect solution applied 10 minutes later.” -George S. Patton

    In startup life, much as it is in the natural world “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” -Charles Darwin

    Someone tells you that you are a “fish” for 7%, take their cash and iterate. You got in this business to create, to decide, to impose your will on the world around you. Shed your classification, act quickly and with purpose, and please ADAPT!

    You are a creator! Please do not let men with money corrupt your dream, your purpose, your legacy.

    Retreat, HELL!

    -Trey Swann

  3. Startups are hard, Wesley. I’ve got my self wondering the last weeks if startups could only be code and sell.
    Problems with cofounders, markets drawbacks, and so much things on a personal level are really hard.
    Keep up the good work fella, it’s hard out here too.

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