July 17, 2011
The Starting Line…

With my first product launch imminent, I gaze out the Caltrain window and reflect upon the journey thus far.

Five months ago I arrived in San Francisco with little more than a laptop, a camera and a pile of sketchbooks; the assorted remnants of a few years’ worth ideas that I had happened to remember to archive on any particular day. It was these and a fascination with the internet that had led to my arriving in San Francisco on that particular day - a measure of blind optimism certainly helped.

My network of the time was zero; a circular, though not particularly useful number. My formal experience: also zero, although I had been exposed to the vicissitudes of product development through a good friend and many nights spent imagineering over beer.

The number zero thus became a concept and a challenge. The concept of being disconnected from the startup world - the source of tomorrow’s ideas - and the challenge to rectify this predicament, not through small incremental steps, but in a manner that reflected the timeline under which I was operating: December 20, Judgement Day Visa Expiration Day (VE day?).

With little funds and a distain for spending them, I leveraged the most valuable tool I had: a Canon 7D, a beautiful camera the size of which carries sufficient gravitas to say "I’m a professional, I belong here”. And so off I went, exchanging my services for entry at events, conferences and parties; all good occasions for finding large numbers of like-minded people with one primary objective: to network.

For experience, I sought environments with the greatest learning curve. Recruiters, habitually prioritizing master’s theses over life experience, were a foregone surrender - that left competition. So I hustled my way onto The Startup Bus (scholarships from Capgemini’s Accelerated Solutions Environment & the ANU School of Business helped defray the costs of competition & SxSW entry, respectively), launched headlong into a Startup Weekend (special mention, it is here that I found my current team) and stumbled across The Lean Startup Machine (builds your customer development chops). Each event with different challenges and benefits and all sharing a common theme: actors who thrive under pressure.

They are a special breed, these startuppers. They crave the long hours, shitty pay and high levels of uncertainty - all for a shot a making it their own way and the allure of a “non-linear progression curve”. The culture in the startup world is not a normal one: security is sacrificed for self-sufficiency, obsession is encouraged and long hours are almost a competition in itself - especially with the perennial deadline approaching (death). 

After some time of being embedded within startup culture, interaction with “regular” folk is often interjected with outbursts of “what the f*#k is wrong with you?!!” and “this is fun how??”. But the reality is that it IS fun, at least for the right kind of person -my personal motto being move or explode. In fact, if I weren’t doing this I would most likely be miserable or dissatisfied at the very least. I am a firm believer that we make our own destiny and opportunity comes to those who seek it. Hard work is just preparedness for the luck we may find along the way.

A special mention goes out to the United States Government, whose immigration policies consist of a myriad of obstacles designed to thwart even the most conscientious entrepreneur, whose only crime was a desire to create a viable business which in turn would create jobs. You are my greatest stress factor and my biggest motivator, so in the most perverse sense of the word: thanks.

So here I am, at the edge of the abyss. My camera sold for stickers (3000. Vinyl. Die-cut: the best that my money can buy) and what little reputation I have is on the line. 4 days until launch. 4 days to make an impression, validate hypothese, get sign-ups, prove traction, refine monetization strategy.

I have bootstrapped my way to the starting line.

p.s. To the friends and family who helped me get this far, thank you. Your continuing encouragement means more than you know.


[See our product at picture.ly, network with us at facebook.com/picturely and tweet us @seepicturely. The Picturely team consists of myself, Hadiyah Mujhid, a stellar engineer and Bosco So, who is coding away from his hotel room in Bali as I type. A special mention also goes out to Chris Bennett who was with us for the beginning at Startup Weekend SF but has since withdrawn to focus on running his startup, Centrally, and Black Founders]

[If you would like to see our original Startup Weekend project go to imaiku.me]