How it took me 14 years to become an "overnight success"...
Updated: Mar 18, 2022
Every time after I talk to start up companies, where the conversation doesn't go the way the founders probably had hoped for, I feel bad for them and think back to the moments when I was in their shoes. I however do not always have the opportunity to show sufficient empathy and share my story with them. So I decided to try to describe those emotions as best as I can remember them.
When I first started having dreams of starting a company in early 2006, it was very exciting. My idea juices were flowing as I thought of all the great and wonderful things my product/service will be able to do. As I started to do research I found data points that supported my hypothesis and some that made me question it. My emotions would go up and down, but since the positives exceed the negatives, I continued to push forward.
Then came the moment where I realized “this could be real”, and I actually have to decide to take that first big step: the commitment of investing time, my own money, etc. I took that first real leap with excitement, but then the "barriers" start popping up one by one. At first, the barriers were small, but I focused on the enthusiasm of it all and I kept moving forward. This lasted a while…. maybe a few months…
Then I woke up one day and realized that I had “wandered deep into the forest”, and I just couldn't get out, and a cold sweat overcome me because I realized “oh shit, this is real!" That was the “point of no return”. That’s when the emotional yo-yoing started.
From that moment on I was on an emotional rollercoaster that consisted of fear one day, followed by depression for a few days or weeks, and then something exciting would happen (e.g. people actually want to do a pilot with you), and euphoria would overtake for a while, only to fall back into deep despair when I would realize that a pilot is a serious thing that required me to do and know things that I had no clue about (e.g. privacy and security compliance).
The journey consisted of many little wins and I hoped all along that the compounding of these little wins would get me to the point where I can gain some “momentum”. Then I realized that that one time, when I thought I could not get out because I was too far in, that was the last time I actually could have gotten out. Now it’s really too late because we have our first “client”, we have a commitments to honor, and everything needs to work flawlessly.
From that moment on I became a bull that knew that I have to plow forward, and that although I didn't know how, I would figure it out. As I started plowing forward, the ups and downs come and went, but I could sense the light at the end of the tunnel. We signed our first customer, we launched our first project, we collect our first data that showed positive results, and it’s all good.
However, our team didn't get too carried away with our wins, we didn't have any big celebrations. We would briefly look at each other, giggle for a minute or two, and move on to the new obsession – “what could go wrong”? That is all I thought about and it got all of us into an ongoing mindset of obsessing on the details of everything you do. My team would sometimes think that I am being unreasonable, because I would give them a hard time for a misspelled word, or an inconsistent font, not using correct number of decimals in an analysis, or color in a presentation, etc…. but I knew that it’s the only way. I would also tell them the difference between good and great is that last 1%. (Years later some of them thanked me.)
Very soon I started noticing our competition more, because we were reading press releases that they raised $10MM or $15MM and we had not raised anything beyond our first seed round. The team would get discouraged and asks why are we not doing the same.
My mantra to the team was “focus on delighting our clients, and money will find us”. We continued pushing and more clients came, and existing clients started renewing. The team was humming, and everyone was stressed but in a good way and feeling fulfilled.
Then one late day in May 2018 we get a call from a banker, and another day in June from a Private Equity firm. In October 2018 we get acquired.
The journey lasted 14 years:
Came up with the first version of the concept in early 2006
Spent 5 years developing prototypes and conducting multiple clinical studies with patients to gather valid data
Started working on it full time in mid 2011 when i raised my first and only investment
Sold the company in late 2018
Spent another 2.5 years to complete the "earn out" to receive the rest of the payout