A note from our founder, Justin.
Holy cow, it’s been five years. Five years ago today, Fanout was registered as a company. Back then, all we had were some scribbles in a text file. These days we have a production-ready product and many paying customers. I want to give a big thanks to our investors, advisors, mentors, early adopters, friends, and everyone else who helped get us here.
I also want to take this moment to share some of our experiences over the years.
Slow and steady
People I encounter are surprised that Fanout is not funded by venture capital. This is not for lack of trying, and perhaps someday we will secure such funding. However, I take it as a compliment that we give off that impression. We’ve worked diligently with angel funding, as well as my own bootstrapping, to create a compelling product, even if it meant taking our time.
I think there’s a sense that many startups are overnight successes, due to fundraising and the expansion and buzz that results from it. Funding doesn’t mean success, though (even if there is a bit of a kingmaker effect VCs have), and some companies do take a long time to get funded. Our first real money in (through our accelerator, Seed Sumo) wasn’t until spring of 2014, around 2.5 years after starting the company.
That said, it takes money to make money, and thus small funds means slow progress. In hindsight, I think we were a little early to market when the company was started, and so moving at a slower rate is not necessarily a bad thing. In 2011, I was predicting a future that wasn’t quite around the corner yet. Things are much different in 2016, and I’m glad we’ve remained in existence long enough to witness it.
The other day at API Strategy Conference, Gartner predicted event-driven architectures to be the next big thing. Yeah, I predicted that long ago. ;) But it’s nice to hear an analyst say it.
Another thing that tells me we’re on the right track is that we’ve spent five freakin’ years on the problem we are trying to solve (realtime push). I’m literally still fine tuning things, and I’m the expert! Clearly, this is the kind of product that other companies should use/buy rather than build.
Anyone remember this?
That was our first private beta, back in March of 2012. At the time, I think the website had maybe a logo with a couple of sentences on it. There wasn’t anything to login to. You had to email me if you wanted an account or if you needed to make any configuration changes.
In fact, the product remained in that “you have to email Justin to do anything” state until the fall of 2012, when we introduced a very minimal control panel.
That didn’t stop us from getting our first customer that summer, though. Most development time was spent ensuring production-readiness for that one customer. The frontend experience for new accounts would have to wait.
- November 2011 - Founded.
- March 2012 - Announced private beta.
- June 2012 - Went live with first customer.
- October 2012 - Introduced web control panel (still had to be manually accepted to the private beta).
- April 2013 - Pushpin open source project announced. Reached #1 on HN.
- December 2013 - Turned away a really great potential acquirer.
- Winter 2013-2014 - More production accounts (yes it actually took a year and a half to get here; most accounts were people just playing around).
- April 2014 - Turned away a really great potential acquirer.
- April 2014 - Announced public beta on TechCrunch.
- May 2014 - Joined Seed Sumo accelerator Summer 2014 class, before they switched focus to health and fitness startups.
- June 2014 - Announced public pricing. Started charging users accordingly.
- September 2014 - Closed angel funding round.
- March 2015 - Pushpin got its own website, which we began marketing independently.
- August 2015 - Created the Silicon Valley Realtime meetup (“SVRT”), co-organized with RethinkDB (RIP). SVRT has hosted a great variety of talks from local tech companies, such as Redis Labs, Docker, and Machine Zone.
- September 2015 - Turned away a really great potential acquirer.
- Summer 2016 - Got our first “name brand” customers.
That’s a lot of stuff. And yet, we’re just getting started.
Tips for others
What startup post is complete without some advice, too?
Startups are more than code. This is not my first company, but it is the first time that I’ve been responsible for a large number of non-development tasks. Whether that’s traveling and speaking at events, writing blog posts, managing a complex budget, dealing with lawyers, or simply having to pick up the company snail mail, there is a whole heck of a lot to do. Be ready to be responsible for things you’ve never been responsible for before, and have a good personal task tracking process.
On being a single-founder. It’s best to have co-founders, but this is not something that can be forced, and so if you don’t have any then you don’t have any. Early on, I shopped around for a co-founder, but after enough months I decided to proceed on my own. Advice from a mentor at the time was “it’s easier for a coder to learn biz stuff than the other way around”. If by “learn” he meant “mash your way to minimum viable skill” then this is probably true, but that’s easier said than done, and so if you’re solo it’s critical to surround yourself with the right people. Assuming you’re a hardworking person that can juggle many hats (which, BTW, you need to be even if you have co-founders), then probably the only real problem you’ll face as a single-founder is investor bias. You may need to scrape by and kick ass regardless, until you meet some true believers.
Funding. My advice is to save a bunch of your own money and use it to bootstrap. As software engineers, it doesn’t take long to save money. I say this as a serial entrepreneur who has saved and spent enough times now. In fact if there was anything I’d do differently, I’d have saved up even more before starting. It is true that some founders have obtained funding without much personal expense, but I don’t think this is very common, especially not anymore. Have a 12 month runway. When it comes to fundraising from others, your network matters most. If you’re a recluse engineer then you’ve got some work ahead of you.
The road ahead
There is still so much we want to do, and we will continue to build and grow. We’ll be releasing a new version of Pushpin very soon with some great features. Also we want to do more with the LiveResource project. Hopefully we can get the JS client working well in Q1.