"How long will my startup idea take to get to traction, wild success or even just get going?"
That's a frequent and important question for every first time entrepreneur.
Here is the shortcut story in the Wall Street Journal about the co-founders' march from idea to blue-chip VC deal. I'll summarize below.
- 2009 Not-A-Business Starting Point. Two college friends, Tom Lehman and Mahbod Moghadam shared their curiosity about the meaning of a lyric in Cam'ron's rap song, "Family Ties."
- Leads to starting a blog. The two friends used it to explain the lyrics of Cameron's next album.
- Third friend added to blog team. Ilan Zechory joined the team.
- Friends make founders. All three knew each other as Yale classmates, sharing similar values.
- Expanded coverage. Began commenting on other singers and poets.
- Standout feature emerged. It let users annotate texts. Contributors could highlight a line or word, and type in an explanation. When other users clicked on the highlighted portion, the explanation would pop up in a box.
- 2010 Discovered bigger potential. After opening song comments to the wider public, participation grew beyond founders' expectations.
- Mid-2011 growth surge. One million unique hits per month.
- Added compelling features. Now users were reading and rating other people's annotations and adding comments of their own.
- Saw larger potential. From Supreme Court cases to the Bible to shareholder letters, said Lehman.
- Decided to make a go of it as a business.
- 2011 started cascade of seed money. Y-Combinator $170,000, later celebratory investors actors Ashton Kucher and rapper Nas. Led to $1.8 million seed round total. (also see BONUS below).
- 3 Years to big VC Money. Founded in August, 2009, the big $15 million VC deal arrived October, 2012 from the hot VC firm, Andreessen Horowitz. Read carefully the VC's comments in the linked item (Hint: look at number 6. above and then read the link.).
- Growth rockets. 2012 traffic doubles to 4.9 million unique visitors per month, with 25 employees.
- No revenue yet. As of August 2013 the business model consists of "may eventually consider targeted ads and corporate partnerships.
- 2013 further expansion planned. Founders thinking about the art world and other things.
- 4 years and counting . . .
I've discussed this kind of startup before with you. Rap Genius is an outstanding example of what I consider to be a "spontaneous startup." They have special characteristics, including consuming a long time and lots of experimentation and trials, seeking to find that "WOW!" in what they have stumbled onto. If this is your idea of doing a startup, dig into this story and those blogs. "Experience is cheapest second hand."
And for an intimate look at money raising and startup valuations, read the blog about the inside story of their financings, "How Rap Genius Raised $1.8M in Seed Funding Without Knowing What We Were Doing."
Non-deliberate starting points may lead to an eventual startup business. Do not expect overnight success, rather, a long number of years of seeking to be "first to get it right." That patience and deliberate effort can lead you to discover the magic that gets many people excited about what you are offering. When you can move down that path and discover your WOW!, being First to Get it Right, then you'll be well on your way to building your unfair competitive advantage.
I wish you The Best on your Adventure!