Part 1: The Start of the Gauntlet

This part of our blog is dedicated to our Trials and Tribulations. It is a homage to our growth and how we’ve been able to tackle things. The life of a startup can be a difficult one, that’s why 70% of startups don’t last past the 2 year mark (I’m proud to say we’ll be celebrating 5 years this upcoming year).

I hope you can find some of this information useful in your journey as I’ve had some first hand experience I’ll be sharing with you.

Making the decision of a life-time

When I first started Cali Style Technologies – the birth of what is currently Widgetware, it was a difficult decision. At the time, I was working for an industry leader and I had learned my trade inside and out. The only problem was, I was stagnant in the company. I had to make a decision to leave if I wanted to continue to grow.

The working environment was nice, employees were fun to work with (at times) and the pay was great, so why would anyone complain or want to leave? Fact of the matter is that there was no future past the position i was in. It’s the ceiling effect, like running out a breath in a marathon. Sure I could have worked for that company for the rest of my life, stayed in a stable position, and got by, but I am the kind of person who wants more than that.

I care a great deal about any company I work for. I put my heart, sweat, and tears into everything I do. I put in a 110% effort every time. If I can’t do it right, I won’t do it at all. I won’t ask anyone to do something I wouldn’t do myself, unless I don’t have the skillset to perform it. The problem was, there was never any type of “stock option” or stake in the Company for me. After 2 years of working at the company, I asked if that was an option, but it was brushed over and conversation quickly changed gears.

The Takeaway: I probably should have asked earlier about a percentage in the company when I first started working. By waiting too long I think it was one of those “never brought up” topics. Flip Side: Now currently the CEO of Widgetware I’ve made it very clear from the beginning that we give stock options based upon performance and invaluable skill sets. I make this transparent when I first meeting any potential employee and even ever intern knows about the growth opportunities we have if they are truly passionate about Widgetware and our culture – Call it, Open Source Wages. This is more than just a business to us, it’s a family.

Putting your heart on your Sleeve

I’d spend hours in meetings at my old place of business talking about new things we could innovate and implement with little or no credit given to you if the idea was yours. I’m sure I hit home with a few of you there, and if you haven’t experienced this yet and you’re just getting into the industry, it will eventually happen to you.

Problem was nothing we ever talked about ever really got implemented and customers would ask if there was anything new going to happen or we could implement. Sure we’d boast up everything we talked about, dim down the lights, and put on a smoke and mirror act.

But that just wasn’t me. I had greater aspirations to be apart of something bigger, something that would help revolutionize the industry and make lives easier. That’s where something had to change.

The Leap of Faith

Being a poker player, there’s times when you hold em, there’s times when you fold em, and there’s times when it’s all in. This was one of those times.

I had my bills covered for a month and $400 extra savings to put towards my new idea. It had to be something great, something new, something unique, something original. Problem with that was in order to create something like this I needed one of two things; Money or Time, heck pretty much both at this point in my life.

With $400 in my pocket I put everything I had learned the last 2 years of working in the industry and everything I was had learned in my 5 years of college before dropping out into this project.

I started by opening up a Web Design and Search Engine Optimization company serving local clients. From sales, to building the sites to marketing them, I was wearing all the hats, but I was my own boss, it felt good.

Growth was slow but also steady, but most importantly, it was quality. I was able to get the right clients that valued the same principals as I did. And some of those customers are still here today, 5 years later. Problem was again, I was hitting a ceiling without any additional help besides from my Wife (She’s been a trooper through all of this and I’d like to give her a special thanks for not only working side-by-side with me for years, supporting me through this journey, and believing in my vision.)

Bringing on Help

I was able to support us, but this was becoming a full time job in itself. I needed help. Bringing on help meant that I was going to have to split profits. Not a problem, I’ve always been a fair person and bringing on help meant I would be able to go get us more work and expand the business further into something more than just a Web Design and SEO company. I ended up meeting a great friend through a mutual Web Design Firm that was splitting it’s separate ways.

This friendship forged into a symbiotic relationship, like peanut butter goes with jelly, or a good cigar and brandy. From that point on, clear skies and sunny days have been in forecast. Sometimes making the decision to give up a piece of your company can be a make it or break it decision for a start up. Give away too much and you’ve left nothing for yourself, don’t give up enough and there’s no desire for anyone to work that much harder.

The Takeaway: As a startup it can be difficult to figure out how to pay your partners. Do you give a piece up (sweat equity), a percentage of sales, salary? It really depends on your model and what capital you have. Flip Side: We’ve found that the best model that works for our specific startup is a percentage of the actual profit rather than the entire deal itself until it’s been earned rather entitled. Why? Well there’s been times through our growth that we’ve had people leave in the middle of a project – (See a later post about this and how we overcame this situation that crippled an entire quarters growth.)

If you’ve gone through the start up phases before, or you’re just starting to tackle some hurdles in your start up. How did your original idea start out and how have you been able to take it to the next level – or how do you plan to take it to the next level?