Startup: an emotional roller coaster ride


February was a great month for my startup (Visual Website Optimizer). All metrics that you can care about worked in our favo. Increase in number of customers, revenues, users (and yes, Twitter followers too). We also hired our first employee and are looking forward to hiring 2 more. (Please apply if you are in Delhi and someone you know is in Delhi and wants to work with us).

If everything seems great, why do I call this an emotional roller coaster? Well, that’s because just like a real roller coaster there is always a lingering fear that we may not be in existence 12 months down the line. When established companies such as MySpace with hundreds of employees face uncertainty, how can our small team afford to be complacent.

In a single day, we get to see so many emotions. Consider my typical work day:

  • Wake up at 10 am (read below why I wake up at 10 am, we work from India during US hours since most of our customers are in US and UK). Check emails for an hour or so.
  • Worst feeling ever: 2 customers want to cancel accounts. One says they will resume account in 3 months after they revamp their website. Other says we are bit expensive. Sh*t, if customers keep cancelling accounts we will be out of business soon!.
  • Best feeling ever: wuhuu!! Smashing Mag tweeted about our new case study, 30 new trial signups and 4 trial users upgraded last night. Wow, one of them chose our $729/month enterprise plan. Life couldn’t be better.
  • Eat breakfast, dress up and reach office about 12:30 pm
  • Reality kicks in: duh, 15 new support emails to reply. Think: how can we reduce ever growing support load so we can focus on product. Team and me gets to work on solving support.
  • Clear up inbox by 2 pm. Bored, what to do next?
  • Open todo list and see pending tasks. OK, so today I need to write a new case study on our blog, write a guest post for another blog, design a feedback survey and write a newsletter. Phew! that’s a lot of work for today.
  • It’s OK to procrastinate a bit. Before diving into work, open Hacker News. 30 minutes pass in a blink of an eye.
  • Real work: write case study and publish it (1 hour). Write a newsletter and send it using Mailchimp (30 minutes)
  • 5 pm: time for lunch. The team hangs out at one of the restaurants nearby. Wonder why don’t they change menu. God knows I am sick of eating Dal-Roti Thali (Noth Indian) or Noodles (Chinese) or Idli-Vada (South Indian).
  • Back from lunch: life is bad, 2 people flagged newsletter as spam (we are not spammers. we follow don’t be evil and newsletter was informative and, heck, had a clear Unsubscribe button.). Life is also good, the case study published today got 50 retweets with 150 visitors on the website right now!
  • 5:30 pm have evening tea and see calendar for appointments today.
  • OK great, have two one hour long demos on Webex. One with a Fortune 500 company, another with a web agency. Meanwhile, more mails in inbox. Clearing up inbox takes time.
  • 6:30 pm: phew, time for business strategy and product planning. We need to hire more perople, think how to find hackers / programmers in Delhi? Fire a few emails for job postings. We need to introduce a new feature: behavioral targeting. Discuss with team, draft a plan, set timelines. What about our SEO, analytics and A/B tests? Fire up Google Analytics and Visual Website Optimizer. Check how we are doing on different fronts. How are we doing on paid traffic front? Fire up Adwords and Facebook Ads and see performance of campaigns. We are losing money on Adwords! Pause them for a while.
  • It is 8:30 pm already and I have a demo at 9 pm (about 11 am EST)! Rush to home.
  • At home, it is 9 pm so I give 1 hour long demo to Fortune 500 company via webex. They are impressed and may sign up soon. Holy smokes, thank god.
  • 10 pm: have dinner in a rush. OMG, have a demo at 10:30 pm too! How can I forget it?
  • It is 10:30 pm – another 1 hour long demo via webex. Think: why can’t these guys simply watch a video or signup for free 30 day trial. Visual Website Optimizer is pretty straightforward so why do they need a demo. Anyway, demo over. They say they will signup for $49/month. Duh, should I feel happy?
  • 11:30 pm – chat with the team. They inform that today our servers broke records and are doing a peak performance of 730 requests per second. OMG, need to add one more server ASAP. Sparsh (our CTO) purchases a new server from Linode and configures it. It is ready to be deployed. Work with the team for the whole time to ensure there is no downtime. It’s 1 am already. The new server is up and ready. Phew, life is good! Our servers are processing more than 1 billion pageviews per month. A momentary feeling of pride.
  • 1 am: more mails. People want to schedule demos, feature requests, billing questions, advice on what to test, partnerships, discounts and special offers.
  • 2 am: time for some entertainment. Check Hacker News, Oatmeal, read a book and watch some funny videos / TV shows.
  • 2:30 am – sleep! (Still having some nagging feelings: will our revenue increase next month? how can we increase active usage?)
  • 2:30 am to 10 am: get new product and feature ideas in dreams (just joking! barring a few days when a US customer calls at an odd Indian hour, I usually sleep well)

Needless to say, even a single day in startup life is a roller coaster ride.

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8 Responses to “Startup: an emotional roller coaster ride”

  1. Vikash Kumar Jha
    5. March 2011 at 20:37

    Great. Great. Great.

  2. Atul Gupta
    6. March 2011 at 17:48

    Inspiring !!!!

  3. Deepika Sharma
    8. March 2011 at 14:26

    Kya baat hai Mr. Chopra!!! Way to spin a nice story

  4. Fabian
    8. March 2011 at 19:50

    Paras, this is so true it makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time :)
    The amazing thing is how the oscillatory ups and downs tend to increase in both frequency and amplitude with every day of your startup’s life.

    Expect another email in your inbox shortly – it was on my partnerships-todo-list for quite a while, but this blog post makes me want to write it right away.

  5. David Hauser
    8. March 2011 at 19:59

    Great post! I created a video all about this last year that you might like at http://getontherollercoaster.com

  6. Emotional Roller Coaster | OhBoard
    9. March 2011 at 06:18

    [...] feeling fascinated from reading Paras’s (founder of Visual Website Optimizer) post about his day, and from interests on Twitter. I decided [...]

  7. Paras Chopra
    9. March 2011 at 10:06

    @David: great video! Spot on..

  8. J
    26. March 2011 at 03:01

    Hey Paras!,
    this was a nice read. Would love to explore opportunities at your company. FYI, i ‘m not in Delhi though.

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