Posted by Darrell Lerner
My blackberry was broken. It must have been. I hadn't received an email in nearly 3 hours. I shook it repeatedly. 5 minutes without an email during the day was extremely unusual. 3 hours without receiving one was downright creepy. It had to be broken. What other explanation was there? I mean, things couldn't change that quickly for me …could they?!
Earlier that afternoon I walked out of the office of SNAP Interactive, the company I co-founded with my brother more than 6 years ago, for the very last time. SNAP started with the two of us working from home, then sharing a small cubicle in a crowded New York City micro-office, and over the next several years we built SNAP into the 36th fastest growing company in North America on the 2012 Deloitte Technology Fast 500 list with 4,400% revenue growth over the past 5 years and approximately 50 employees. During those years, it consumed my life, as fast-growing start-ups typically do. Working at night, on weekends, on vacation. Checking emails around the clock. Reloading the revenue dashboard every chance I got. You know how it is. Founders of a start up never truly shut off.
So, I came home and settled in at my computer to do work and check email - as was my normal routine upon arriving home from the office. Except I had no work to do and no emails to respond to. Turns out my blackberry wasn't broken after all. I had simply stepped off the proverbial start up treadmill and all of that instantly became part of my past life. It's funny - for the past 6 years there was never enough free time and I would have killed for a little more of it. Now, suddenly, I had more of it than I knew what to do with and I found myself completely lost. The sudden void was a complete shock to my system. I wasn't prepared for it - although I'm not sure how you can ever be. I missed having something to think about, obsess about all the time. I missed seeing friends and familiar faces around the office every day. I missed being busy. I felt without purpose. If this was going to be my new normal, I knew it wouldn't last very long.
People who knew, who had experienced the same thing and been in my shoes before, said to give myself some time to decompress. Take 6 months off, they said. They were right. I needed the time off. And I probably still do. But, it took no time at all before I was crawling out of my skin and it became clear that I needed something to focus on instead of sitting around and doing nothing. Turns out, my need to decompress was strongly overpowered by my need find purpose again in my professional life. So, despite not being close to ready, I soon decided to begin again...
I am fortunate. A lot of people made a lot of money investing in SNAP Interactive at the beginning, so it was extremely quick and painless for me to raise some start up capital for my new project despite not even having a business plan or any real idea yet of what I wanted to do. Because of my track record, people believed in my abilities and believed in me. They knew that I knew how to do this and they knew that eventually I'd figure it out. Nevertheless, raising capital without a formal business plan is certainly a non-traditional beginning for a start up; but then again we built SNAP in a very atypical way as well. SNAP never took any VC money. We raised a "friends and family" round at the start and used my legal background to become publicly traded before we even launched. After our initial six-figure raise, we didn't raise a penny for more than 3 years, forcing us to execute at a near-perfect level and to quickly become profitable to support and grow the business. It was indeed non-traditional, but it worked. Thus, it shouldn't come as any surprise that my new venture is born from non-traditional beginnings as well. Even my first hire is non-traditional. Kim isn't a programmer as most first hires are in start ups, but she is smart, enthusiastic, full of potential and possesses an insatiable desire to learn. From experience I know that those are the type of people who thrive in an early-stage start up environment. And I know that if I can surround myself with people who possess those qualities then I really like my chances.
As I step back on to the start up treadmill (this time without the shackles of being publicly traded and thus, no longer limited in what I can say), I thought it would be exciting to document the journey through this blog, as well as reflect upon some of the entrepreneurial lessons learned in my "past life" with SNAP. I'm excited to create something amazing and hopefully you all enjoy coming along for the ride.-DL