Founder Feedback gives you insights from the startup trenches. In a story posted to her blog Escaping the 9 to 5, Maren Kate, founder of Zirtual, details her first year experience as the Founder of a new startup. The most valuable thing she learned was that focusing on cultivating persistence is the key.
Read the full story on Escapingthe9to5.com here. Below it is republished.
"I want to create thousands of jobs. Tens of thousands actually. I want to give millions of people more time on this Earth. I want to change the world.
Exactly one year ago, almost to the date, I incorporated a business called Zirtual. I had a fuzzy idea of what it was going to be, some sort of job board for freelancers – or something. I wasn’t really sure.
All I did know is that I wanted it to become a $100 million dollar company. I would chant this to myself, like a miserly monk, a hundred times a night, while I fell asleep on an uncomfortable cot in a hostel I was crashing at because I couldn’t afford anything better.
I chose a $100 million dollars because I knew that someone who built a company, from scratch – with no experience, in one of the most competitive cities in the world – would be deemed “a success” (and since I was a child I have always craved success, stability & the freedom that extensive financial means allows one).
Little did I realize how completely silly & short-sited I seemed every time I told someone I “was going to build a hundred million dollar business” – but, looking back, I’m glad I did. For two reasons…
- That massive goal that I talked about for months, to anyone who would listen, had a “shaming” affect on me. As in I knew that if I didn’t reach (don’t reach) that goal I’d be publicly and privately humiliated.
- It forced me to think in terms of scale, because if I wanted to hit that number I knew I’d have to do things differently early on than if I planned on building a 7 person business that did a mil. in revenue per year.
The last 12 months
Have been a blur… more or less. They’ve been epic, memorable, awful, stressful, tear-jerking, emotional and wonderful – all in waves.
We have changed almost everything – except our name. That’s one thing I will never (cross my fingers) compromise on. I purchased Zirtual.com about two years ago at an internet café in Vegas around midnight. I got it for $7 and I think by far it has and will be the best purchase of my life.
We changed because we acquired customers, from early, early on – maybe we only had 5, then 10, then 50. But with each additional batch of customers we learned and we “pivoted”, and pivoted, and pivoted. A few months ago we started hitting our rhythm and gaining customers at a faster rate… then we started hiring, then we started really pumping.
One interesting part of all this change has been my mindset has completely shifted – I no longer think about building a company worth $100 million dollars. Instead, I think about changing our customer’s lives. I think about saving their precious time and enabling them to experience more of life. I think about giving jobs to people – for we are a very human-capital intensive enterprise.
That means for each X clients we acquire, we need to hire a new Zirtual Assistant. This may not sound easily scalable to most in silicon valley – but people forget that Starbucks employs tens of thousands and seems to be making a great profit, while providing a great product and a wonderful place for people to work.
I no longer care about making huge profit margins, instead I just want to provide an amazing service & provide jobs to amazing people.
The secret sauce.
The reason I came out to San Francisco was to go through an incubator called Founder Institute, if you’re interested you can read my founder institute review here.
Founder Institute gave me an interesting education on the typical silicon valley startup. It taught me about raising money, about convertible debt and about hiring technical people. All things that for Zirtual, we don’t really need, but it’s important to know what you don’t want to do in order to define what you do want.
Also, Founder Institute got me to San Francisco and moving here has forever changed my life – for that I will be forever grateful to Adeo Ressi (founder of F.I.).
In F.I. they always asked “what’s your secret sauce”, I think our secret sauce has been persistence & passion for freeing up our client’s precious time. I truly believe the only reason Zirtual has gotten to the place it’s at – with 7 employees in San Francisco and many others spread across the U.S. working virtually – is our dogged persistence.
- I persisted until Zirtual found a calling – saving people’s most precious asset, their time.
- I persisted until Zirtual found co-founders – Erik Jensen (our epically talented designer, developer and systems guy) and Collin Vine (our amazing operations, Zirtual assistant hiring/training, everything-customer-service dude).
- I persisted past the point of exhaustion. I lost weight from stress, I lived on ramen, in hostels, in the tenderloin – for a year – in a studio WITH Erik & Collin (which has been surprisingly fun on a side note).
- We persisted until we almost ran out of money and then came into a lot through a huge surge of new customers.
This is NOT a brag. Instead this is to share with you the true story of a business that is just, FINALLY, picking up some steam.
It took a solid year, of non-stop work, of past-the-point-of-good-sense dedication, of buckets of tears – to get to. We have crawled through the jungle, now we’re at the foot of a VERY large mountain and we must crawl straight up it for the next several years.
Why I’m writing this.
As I write this I am laying in bed in my unbelievably tiny studio. In exactly 3 days we will move into a lovely 3 bedroom apartment in Nob Hill – away from the trannies, crack heads and prostitutes that call our current neighborhood home.
Sidenote: these people are far more personable and kind than a lot of the “better off” residents of San Francisco, so don’t always judge a book by it’s cover.
In less than two days Zirtual will officially turn 1 year old. We’re throwing a little birthday for our baby on Monday (if you’re in the city find out more here).
I am phasing out of one part of my life and into another. It’s a bitter sweet transition. There is still a LOT to do, we have so much work ahead of us. But I doubt I will ever struggle as much as I have over the last year.
I will miss the melancholy of almost failing, and the sweet surrender of barely succeeding with 0:01 left on the clock.
It is the best high in the world.
My two cents.
Persist. Don’t worry about finding your passion. Don’t worry about having an idea that will change the world. Instead, focus on cultivating persistence. Everything else will come.
If you are persistent towards a worthy goal (mine was building something great – I knew not what, not why, not how) everything else will follow.
I started Zirtual, because I wanted to build something – big. I wanted to create stability, for myself, for my family and later, I realized, for others. I wanted purpose. So I persisted towards a fuzzy goal of building something great.
Never, ever stop.
Change course, change the game plan, change everything – just never give up your lofty, somewhat fuzzy goal. One day that will become your life’s work and it will ALL make sense in retrospect.
It’s been one year… now the persistence towards a fuzzy goal has turned into something concrete. It’s funny, because I’m sure I’ll make my original – misguided – financial goal through Zirtual. But I don’t care about the money anymore, instead I’ve found my purpose, OUR purpose:
We want to create thousands of jobs. Tens of thousands actually. We want to give millions of people more time on this Earth. We want to change the world.
Support us by getting a Zirtual Assistant yourself (it’ll change your life, promise) or suggesting Zirtual to any of your busy, stressed-out or otherwise frazzled friends."
Zirtual, a service that connects busy people with virtual assistants dedicated to making your life better, is a Graduate of the Silicon Valley Founder Institute. Follow Maren Kate on Twitter at @marenkate, and Zirtual at @zirtual.