Celebrate the little victories

Today is something of a landmark for me. Just a few minutes ago, I launched my first full-time commercial venture when I flipped the switches and took Fwd:Vault out of beta. There’s an announcement over at the official blog if you’re interested in the details. Here I’d rather talk about what’s going through my mind, lest any of you are proceeding down a similar path.

First off, this has been 14 months in the making. I started working on this shortly after the startup I was working for went belly-up in November 2008. Like so many people these days, I found myself facing a lean job market. Starting a business has been a lifelong dream of mine, so after talking it over with my wife — a world-class vet with double my brain power — we agreed that the timing was right for me to pursue my dream.

So many startup publications talk about “taking the plunge,” of overcoming the fear that holds people back from getting started. This was not the case for me, and I’m not sure why it has to be the case for anybody. If you think and plan ahead, you can avoid the worst of the action-paralyzing fear. I wanted to run my own business since I was a kid, which instantly diffused fear around the general concept. I kept trying to come up with viable business ideas until I had one that stood up to scrutiny, decreasing some of the fears of failure. I worked on it in my free time until the opportunity to go full-time presented itself, removing the fear of having no income. Knowledge and understanding are they key. If you fear the unknown, know more.

Other people on the entrepreneurial road falter when they look at the work involved. Admittedly, looking back on the last year ‘n change, I’m astounded at how much I’ve done. My subversion repository had 700 commits when I launched. The site and service cover 1200 files in 175 folders (that doesn’t include framework stuff, I wrote every one of those). I taught myself a library’s worth of new tech, including automated recurring billing, search engines, email syntax, Amazon S3, daemonizing, undocumented PHP functionality, and even more HTML/CSS/JS techniques. On the business side, I registered an LLC, got a business address and phone number, bought servers and domains, began proper bookkeeping practices, won a competition, dealt with consultants, performed basic market research, investigated advertising venues, taught myself basic SEO/SEM, and learned to analyze traffic.

That’s simply a staggering amount of work to think about at once, and I never would’ve gotten any of it done if I tried. You simply cannot look at it as a whole all at once and keep your sanity. Every day was just one or two tasks: get a page working: fix an email processing bug, and so on. You know where you and where you want to go. In between is simply a mountain of very tiny to-do’s. As long as you keep an eye on the prize — launching a business — the task list sorts itself.

Finally, I put the most important exercise in the title of this post. Every time you complete a page, add a feature, piece together another part of your business structure, celebrate it! Relay your latest conquest to your wife, family, friends, whoever will listen. Write a blog post about it (you’ll find tons of posts on this site inspired by my startup efforts).

Even if they don’t care — my wife glazes over every time I get into technical stuff — or nobody listens — this blog averages less than 100 hits/day — you’ll feel energized knowing that you were able to proclaim “I finished something, I took a step.” That’s so crucial, because of all the naysayers you will meet, the worst one is your own self-doubt.

Then, when you finally reach your big goal, mark the calendar, and celebrate that day every year. Savor it when facing your next mountain. And write a blog post, leave a mile marker for the next guy.

My next hill starts tomorrow. For now…

I did it! I started a business!