(aka how a missed opportunity and a failed deal with Steve Blank led to the creation of Foundersuite)
In my first blog post, I told you why I started Foundersuite; in this episode, I will tell you how FS actually came to be.
In the fall of 2008, my wife and I were burned out of the tech startup scene and took a much-needed sabbatical by literally sailing away. As we were crossing the Pacific Ocean-- a 22-day, non-stop voyage-- I hit on the idea of writing a book about entrepreneurs. The “hook” was that I would interview successful founders on various topics, and thus, the content would largely be crowd-sourced and written for me by folks with a built-in fanbase.
When we finally came back to land in the spring of 2009, I started in on the project. The first step was to come up with a name. “Startup: An Owner’s Manual” fit the bill, since my goal was to literally create a how-to instructional guide for building new companies.
Over the next two years, I interviewed-- albeit rather slowly-- enough entrepreneurs to fill around 60 pages of content. It was challenging because I was simultaneously aiming for a) “BSDs”-- big names; and, b) deep dives on given topics. As a result, it took on average about two months to pin down each interview; things were creeping along. (However, I was able to land some pretty interesting folks, like Paul Buchheit, Dharmesh Shah, Rob Mee, Jamie Perlman, and many others, and we intend to release some of this content over the coming weeks.)
Fast forward to spring of 2012. I was in New York working with a startup client, when I got a call from a friend (and lean startup expert) Sean Murphy. He said: “Nathan, I see that you own the URL www.startupownersmanual.com; you’re about to get a shit-ton of traffic.”
With that, he sent me a link that Steve Blank had just posted on his blog, announcing that a new book was heading to the printer in about a month. Can you guess the name? Yep- “Startup Owner’s Manual.”
Naturally, I assessed my options, which boiled down to the following:
- Get my book out first and piggyback off his momentum. I thought about rushing to market with an Amazon e-book-- a strategy not unlike how straight-to-dvd movies will piggyback off the buzz surrounding a big and "real" movie. (As an example, “Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies,” made for $150k, was released one month before “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter,” made for $69 million came out). This would be a ballsy move on my part and was tempting, but could easily backfire; plus, my book really wasn’t ready or done.
- Fight a trademark battle and / or sue. Interestingly, and in what I can only assume was a remarkable coincidence, we had the exact same cover art for our books-- even down to the identical exploded engine diagram. This initially raised my hackles and set off some alarms; but I preferred to think that great minds think alike; plus, did I really want to go up against Steve with his deep pockets and very loud, visible, online platform? Um, no. Plus I really respected the guy. Who wants to pick a fight with one of their heroes?
- Partner up with Steve and Bob. This is the approach I tried to run with, without much headway. I pitched Steve and his partner Bob Dorf on a partnership where they would publish the book, and I would run the website as a dynamic source of supplmentary content that stays fresh with weekly interviews. I pushed hard on this, but was told “no” several times; they were nice about it, but simply didn’t want any new “partners.” Bummer, but I get it.
- Sell and move on. This is what finally, actually happened-- I sold the URL for a nominal sum, plus a promise to get a link put up on Steve’s blog.
So, with some great content in hand but no home for it, I needed to come up with a new name. I started brainstorming, and came up with “FounderStories” as a good option. The URL was taken, but a quick reverse-search turned up the owner as a one Gerry Hays, Professor of Entrepreneurial Finance at Indiana University.
I contacted Gerry to try to buy or trade for the URL, and he told me he was planning to use it as part of another idea he had-- a set of tools for founders called “FounderSuite.”
I loved this idea. I was hooked. I immediately knew I had to be part of it.
Fast forward again-- I won’t bore you with all the details-- but I ended up doing a deal with Gerry where he would stay on as Advisor and Board Member, and I would run with the concept, and build a startup around the idea and URL.
The rest, as they say, is history-- we struck a deal at the end of July, I began coding and designing in September, we soft-launched a Beta in March, and we hard-launched in June.
Now the real work (and fun) begins! Stay tuned and enjoy the ride. :)