The Plunge: No Time for Panic
Note: If you want to follow my exploits as they happen, then follow me on Twitter (@changg) for real-time updates on the startup through the hashtag #theplunge.
My cofounder, friend, and roommate Sameer bursts out in laughter as I get up from my chair and let out a nervous yell. I pace out of our home office into my bedroom that’s separated only by a pair of pocket doors that have been propped open for the past week, rush back out the other door that leads into the hallway, and then nervously shuffle back into our home office through a third door in a small, frenetic circle. The two of us have been friends for nearly ten years and I don’t know if he’s ever seen me this nervous. In fact, until we started this company, I didn’t really get nervous anymore period. Admittedly, yes, moments before a big presentation I would get a rush of adrenaline and my heart rate would elevate slightly. But over the years, I had trained myself to embrace those sensations and convinced myself that emotions were really counterproductive. Instead of focusing on the moment, I had learned to hone in on the tasks that would make or break my success.
But since starting forMD, those years of training and discipline evaporated and I had to train myself all over again. I remember the first phone meeting I had with a potential investor. We got the meeting through a very warm introduction and as such the firm seemed pretty interested. But leading up to the call something seemed very different. The experience was almost surreal. I leafed through pages of PowerPoint slides obsessing about every single word, rehearsing my talking points sitting in front of my computer muttering like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. When we got on the call I took the lead and was so nervous that one of my cofounders had to write on a blank piece of printer paper, telling me to slow down and calm down.
Starting your own company is, as I would imagine, quite like having your own child. Sometimes you’re so invested in your baby that it’s tough, even impossible, to remove emotion from the equation. You almost romanticize the problem that you’re trying to solve and forget that ultimately this is a business. And all your decisions should be based upon what makes the most business sense – not how beautifully you think your home page is designed. Or all the arguing that went into exactly how to word your pitch deck. So over the past year or so, I’ve been in the process of retraining myself to deal with those big moments. But none of it could have prepared me for this moment. Launch.
With one click, it’s started.
Five days earlier, I had made the trek up from Durham, North Carolina up to New York City. After hurriedly packing up my grossly oversized 16 foot moving truck, I absconded out of the Bull City and made the 500 mile trek eating up three tanks of gas. My girlfriend and I made a few pit stops along the way, one to eat an intolerant, yet delicious fried chicken sandwich. During that stop we had to park our truck about a hundred yards from the fast food restaurant, one that closes on Sundays, because of the size of our vehicle. As we walked from the parking spot, I eyed a vagrant who was perched suspiciously close to my truck, the trunk of which was plainly without a lock. In my rush out of North Carolina, I neglected to do many things a normal human being might do – attend going away lunches with co-workers, have one last night out on the town with friends, or even make sure that my rental company gave me a lock for my truck. Perhaps he sensed my glares from afar or it was simply my paranoia, but the homeless man left the area quietly a few moments later.
Excitement fills the room as we track the numbers. This is actually working.
And just as I didn’t have time for all of those things, I certainly have no time for panic. So as Sameer cackles in the corner, I pace around the apartment nervously while trying to avoid the many boxes that remain unpacked nearly a week out from my arrival in Manhattan. I glance over at Sameer with my hands on my hips, tap my foot on the hardwood floors, look down at the ground anxiously, and then catapult myself back into the seat. Without thinking, I click the mouse. The emotions coursing through my body are complex. Somehow I feel elated, horrified, relieved, and nervous all at the same time. Instantly, invitation codes are sent to hundred of physicians allover the world. With one click, it’s started.
With multiple screens out, we watch our different analytics platforms to track how many e-mails were successfully delivered, who and how many users opened the email, click through rates, account registration, and actual site activity. Excitement fills the room as we track the numbers. This is actually working. People are actually opening the e-mail, clicking the link, activating their accounts, and using the site. We catch a few bugs here and there, but nothing major. There are a few inactive e-mail accounts to be reconciled with our customer organization, a couple of users who need a bit of hand holding through the process, but overall the launch goes without any major issues.
While the number of users and how quickly they are registering accounts with forMD is clearly exceeding our expectations, I’m still stuck with a number of questions. How do we get conversion rate to 100%? When and how will users transform from passive recipients of content into highly engaged members who are seeded their own discussions? Why are some users spending a lot more time on our site than others? Who in the heck is using Internet Explorer 6.0? How do we optimize the experience for mobile? A few brief moments of exhilaration and excitement quickly fade into the background as I come to a realization. Just as there isn’t any time for panic, it feels like there isn’t any time for celebration either.