Lessons learned launching a start up

Are we there yet? How many times must I have put this question to my very talented partners in crime, Derek (co-founder and CTO) and Kain (Creative and Marketing Director)? Wind back the clock to September 2007. It was two years ago when Derek and I met at my home to discuss a number of start up ideas. After some discussion we settled on pursuing two opportunities. Opportunity one was to develop an online sales tool for photographers, a project Derek had been toying with for almost a year, and opportunity number two isn’t even worth mentioning as it lasted a mere three weeks. We learned very quickly that a) you need focus and b) things generally require a lot more time and effort than you think.

I won’t tell you what our initial time line for the project was as it is a tad embarrassing, but suffice say, we expected a sprint and found ourselves running an ultra marathon.

So what took us so long? Well, there are probably three key factors that turned this little project into a two year nose to the grind stone kind of endeavor.

1. PhotoMerchant is a turnkey online business system for photographers, and as such, the application turned out to be a complex beast of 2.5m lines of code and counting.
Yes, Guy (Kawasaki) and all you other smart people out there, we know, good enough is good enough, start small and iterate etc., etc. That all makes sense and we thought we understood the meaning of your words. But what do you do if you’re a delusional perfectionist? We thought what we were planning to build was bare bones (delusional!). We didn’t realize we were little perfectionists (delusional!). We thought we were using superior technology (not delusional) and as such, this was surely only going to take a couple of months or so (delusional!). Anyway, I think I’ve made my point. We’ve learned a lot and at the end of the day, we don’t regret the past for two reasons. Firstly, some things you just have to experience for yourself. Secondly, what we ended with is a very well thought out and executed solution, designed from the ground up to let you be more effective at what you do and ultimately run a more profitable photography business. But don’t take my word for it. I encourage you to see for yourself and be the judge of that.

2. Until recently, all of us were working full time in our respective day jobs, hence software development and business planning was a night time and weekend effort only.
As independence and total control over the direction and integrity of the product was important to us, we made the decision to self-fund the venture. Clearly development would have been much quicker had we raised external funding but with that would have come a loss of control, larger overheads from the get go, commercial pressures and considerations that would not necessarily have been in the best interest of the business/product, and last but not least a compromised vision and, no doubt, a different company culture to the one we’ve shaped over the last 24 months. That said, we have recently raised a small amount of cash from an investor who not only presents a great strategic fit for us, but also is culturally aligned with us. The decision to raise funds on the eve of launching PhotoMerchant was motivated by our desire to work full time in the business so we can provide the best possible support to our customers.

3. Had we known back then what we know now, we would have been considerably quicker.
If you work as intensively as we have on a project, you can’t help but learn a lot. Clearly, if we had to start all over again but with the experience of hindsight, the technical knowledge we have amassed over time and the technological developments that have occurred in the last couple of years, we would be significantly quicker now. No doubt about it. However, we believe there is a clear benefit of us having taken some extra time with getting PhotoMerchant to launch. The last couple of years allowed us to look at our business and the PhotoMerchant application from many different angles. What you see now is what be believe to be a well considered solution which should help you considerably with running your photography business online. We know there’s lots of room for improvement, because there always is, but all things considered we’re pretty confident you’ll be impressed with the functionality, ease of use and overall usability the inaugural version of PhotoMerchant offers.

So, are we there yet? You bet we are! And we have big things, very big things, planned for PhototMerchant.

The PhotoMerchant crew and I hope you will take advantage of our free 14 day trial and we hope you will enjoy using PhotoMerchant as much as we enjoyed making it!

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