/ the firehose. how i screwed up.

Originally written sometime after Dec 1st before Jan 1st.

I got slammed and have not been able to devote the time to getting the list out. When the holidays hit I’m hoping that gives me some breathing room. I’ve gotten a lot of kick back from local angels about their names being on the list. That’s pretty frustrating but just one more thing we all need to work on.

In the past 3 weeks Dwolla has changed a bit. We have had a few new people around and are really just working on managing our infrastructure. I figure maybe it would be beneficial looking back on the last few weeks to share what I wish I would have differently and rant without direction.

The idea stage of the start up has this hope that once you build it… People actually care. You give up more than you ever thought possible (personally and financially) to see it through and no one really ever gets it in your personal life. You end up surrounding yourself with people who are just as starry eyed as you so you can stay sane in the wake of the risk of the thing. Before long your all drinking the same kool aid.

Once people start caring that gives you a lot of validation. All of a sudden people in your personal life change from “I can’t wait until you get a real job” to “OMG you’re so rich!” or they will get so paranoid about it they will go bonkers about life changing so fast.

When your name shows up in the newspaper with $1M next to it and that gets retweeted a few times. A lot of people tend to assume that money went right into your pocket. Be careful folks.

I say this candidly. When money changes hands the vultures come out.

Then you realize what I did after a friend so eloquently stated “the skills and resources that got you here are not the same ones that will get you where you are going”.  Some will want to shuffle you along to the next stage and some will sink their hooks into you in a way that you can’t imagine. Or at least I never did.

Once your name pops up through the AP and gets piped into the Huffington Post, the New York Times, Forbes, and a hundred other publications. All of a sudden you’re validated to a new group of people. The user base your servicing also goes from about 1:100 in about 2 seconds.  Within a few days I personally took in a few hundred text messages, close to 1000 emails, and I am not even close to being caught up on my personal voice mail. The companies emails are however caught up, as are voice mails.

The incoming contacts range from everything from outside venture groups, the press,  to people looking to invest in our IPO (not sarcasm and I type this feeling as ridiculous as you do reading it) to extremely important relationships with larger companies who we are working to close deals with. They all need attention and each one requires a certain level of mental focus. While all this craziness is going on the camera guy is at the door and a news station is showing up at 6 to cover that thing you haven’t finished yet, and do you have a projector?

And then things calm down and for the first time in 3 weeks. You just fall asleep without distraction. 5 minutes in. The phone wakes you up. You’re on Mashable.

This is freaking chaos and this is my life. I wouldn’t trade it for any other life in the world. I’ve run a company before that grew at 70% annually and decently well. Running a tech company that doubles customers / employees / and support in a week… Is nothing like that. It’s an exercise in remaining sane while simply looking at people you trust and saying and having the gumption to say… Help, I need you to do these 100 things and I don’t have time to explain how…

I asked someone I consider a friend today what I could do to help him. His answer was the most refreshing one I’ve got in weeks. He said “F you, the last thing you need to be doing right now is helping me.”

My next point (as if I’ve made one already) is to say. Surround yourself with people you trust and believe in your project. They will at unbelievable moments drive you harder in ways you can’t help but respect.

BTW. That company who you’ve been trying to get a foot in the door with for 6 months. They just called. You missed their call. It was their CEO and he was wondering if you could be in another state in a few hours. He couldn’t remember if you were in Iowa or Idaho (both are equally as memorable) but he didn’t really care. Oh and btw… Did you finish that presentation he emailed you about 20 minutes ago that you didn’t know about yet? He was anxious to see it.

2 things.

1. I love my life.
2. I wouldn’t take anything back.

So. If I had this to do over I feel like we successfully kept up with the press on a customer service side. Much of the large scale opportunities however have been coming into me directly and recognizing those and responding to those has been pretty difficult. I have a lot of emails and pending introductions to get into. Quite frankly I’m typing this because I need to stop for a few minutes and brain dump. I’m so off the grid I’m accessing it from a 3G USB stick…

  • I should have immediately put up an auto responder for direct emails to me.
  • I should have hired one more person rather than putting it on myself to take care of everything.
  • I should have spent more time on certain documentation pages.
  • I should have documented each incoming point of customer interaction for our new hires.
  • I should not have released the retail application to the public on the 1st. We have a huge influx of incoming requests and even less information to support it than everything else. It’s been good for our company but the backend support and time it’s consumed was unexpected. We severely underestimated the markets desire for the product.
  • Instead of bracing for the worst (no one caring) I should have prepared a 2 week “what if the best happens” plan. My solution to the best case scenario was me working more. Well. That’s great unless you’re already doing 16-20 hour days and you need to get on a plane once in a while. It just isn’t scalable and my own naivety really allowed me to downplay that to myself.
  • I should have prepared certain blog entries weeks in advance. We got so busy no one had time to write new entries and by the time it got online it was no longer relevant b/c another news story was coming out we were responding to. Not creating new contact is not a good thing in my opinion. Relevant communication with clients is fundamental to building relationships.
  • I should have outlined a clear plan for curating and responding to B2B developments. I’m still behind on those simply because the second I walk into the office I’m going 100mph with my head down.

I say these “I should have” but in reality. I really didn’t have time. If I had to do it over I would have just done these things instead of doing other things. These are things I could have done which would have saved me hours a day once press hit.

It’s safe to say I have a slightly different perspective on what happens as your company gets coverage. We very quickly could add another 3 people right now and keep everyone busy 12 hours a day.

Things I think we did right during the launch.

  • No server downtime.
  • One point of customer questions. One contact page with a form.
  • Made it a point to respond as quickly as possible to all incoming requests for support.
  • Waited to release the API documentation until things calmed down slightly.
  • Continued to curate feedback.
  • Correctly situated ourselves to grow from the launch. Not hope the company is an overnight success.
  • Brought on the right engineering help.
  • We spent money in the right places. No big ads or ripping down competition. We highlighted our platforms benefits and clearly communicated them. No tricks.
  • Kept up with social media. For the most part we have been pretty on top of continuing to communicate with people via social media and I think it has been very good for our company.

Drinking from the firehose is an experience I feel fortunate for. I’m fairly certain I’ll see a lot more in larger quantities before this is over. At least I hope to.