WHY are YOU doing a startup?

July 10, 2012

Everyone and their friend's brother's baker seems to be doing a tech startup these days.

If you're not building your own web or mobile app, you're just not part of the cool crowd.

Some of these startups have investors and funding. Some don't.

To all you founders out there, I have one question:

WHY are YOU doing a startup?

Starting a new company is not easy.

I started my consulting company, Syllogistic Software, in 2003. It's almost been a decade, and the road to success was winding, ever-changing, and mostly uphill.

My startup, PMRobot, has been in the works for anywhere from 2-4 years, depending on how you count. I've poured in my heart and soul, with little financial reward.

So again, WHY are YOU doing a startup?

Are you hoping to get rich?

Please, please, please stop right now if that's the case.

The odds that your company will last more than a few years are less than 50/50.

Then, if you do survive -- after many years of blood, sweat and tears -- there is a 67% chance your company will sell for less than $250,000 -- an amount that one developer or designer could make in 4 years, working regular hours -- with evenings and weekends off!

So you might ask me: Why am I doing a startup?

Is it a rational choice? No, not entirely.

So why bother then?

1. I love building software

The pure intellectual challenge of connecting so many complicated pieces to create something useful is both an art and a science.

2. I love learning

Every single minute of every single day I work on my business I'm learning something new.

3. I love creating something that other people love

I may not have a billion active users, like Facebook, but I have traction. More than 100 unique daily visitors. Almost 10 people a day signing up (a 10% conversion rate for you other startup geeks).

My Expectations

I think it's important to have realistic expectations.

I have no grandiose visions of replacing generic, mass-appeal market leaders like Basecamp and Pivotal Tracker.

That would be like opening a local, organic Italian restaurant with the intent of driving Olive Garden out of business.

My product is not for everyone. Not at all.

If you haven't managed several large, successful software projects, you probably won't get it.

If you haven't managed several large, unsuccessful software projects, you probably won't get it.

If you have less than 5 years experience with software project management, you probably won't get it.

But if you do get it, you really get it, and you're in my little niche of a niche of a market.

My Customers

More important than the vanity statistics like DAUs and CTRs, I have a core group about 100 people I call "power users" that have been with PMRobot for many months (or even years in some cases).

These people tell me what is working, and what needs improvement.

They say "thanks" when I roll out a new feature they asked for.

They bug me about bugs that are bugging them. (say that 3 times fast :)

These customers are the reason I spend some late nights reading about obscure Javascript optimizations to make their pages load faster.

What are YOUR reasons for doing a startup?

Do you have a personal passion for your product?

Do you love building it?

Do you love your customers?

If you answered YES to all three of these questions, please -- Carry on and keep going!

You may or may not succeed in the end, but either way, the journey will be well worth the investment.

Update: Discuss on Hacker News

About the author: Jason Hanley has a Computer Science degree, a Business degree, a PMP certification, and a pilot's license, but believes that real life experience trumps formal education -- every time.