I Have a Startup.

I was sitting on my bright orange couch in my living room while my wife was feeding our 7 month old son, Oakley. My hands had begun to hurt as I was hand writing letters to Kobra.io users that wanted stickers.

Each one was personalized, and each was going to a completely different part of the world. One to New Jersey, one to Washington, Oregon, California, Canada, Brazil, Italy, Australia, Scotland, Lithuania.

I was running low on stickers from the 100 I originally ordered, so I put in another order for 500 more. As I was ordering my phone dinged, an email from another use with some cool feature ideas for Kobra.

After emailing them back, thanking them for their feedback and offering them some stickers, I put all of the envelopes in the mailbox and went back to sit with my wife and Oakley. We flipped through the Netflix interface and finally settled on “The Den,” an indie horror flick completely filmed from webcams and cell phones.

Then my phone dinged again, it was the same gentleman from earlier. He thanked me for the prompt reply, but then said something that really struck me as strange:

It’s so nice to chat with the founder of a startup.

…What?

If you go back through my blog articles, I don’t think I’ve labeled Kobra as a startup ever. In fact, I usually just call it a “side-project” as I do have a full time job.

Then it dawned on me, and a feeling of bliss overtook me for a minute, in fact I actually got goosebumps. I mean, I’ve built $1M+ businesses in other peoples companies, but this? This was strange.

“I have a startup?”

My wife paused the TV and looked over at me, “What?” I sat there for a few seconds, and repeated with more confidence:

“It just dawned on me, I have a startup.”

We sat there and talked for a little while, it was quite surreal. We talked about how I already had a global reach, early adopters that were helping me drive the product forward, and the fact that I had made revenue. And eventually we came upon the question:

What is the difference between a side-project and a startup?

I think that many people would tell you that you make the jump from side-project to startup when you “go full-time” or when you hire your first employee. But I don’t think so, I think it’s something completely different entirely.

First, let’s start off by actually defining what a side-project is. I had drinks with a fellow Milwaukee developer the other night and he mentioned to me that he was doing several things on the side. He had an app on the app store that he hadn’t touched since he first made it, but was still bringing in revenue. He had a few other sites and apps that he built, but he wasn’t pushing them at all.

That is a side-project. When you build something cool for the sake of learning a new technology or getting your idea out there, but you don’t necessarily care about the business or marketing side of things.

Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, I would say that some projects are meant to only be side-projects.

But there comes a time when that little project you’ve been working on, or that idea you coded for yourself, that app you’ve shared with your friends becomes something else entirely.

It evolves, it begins taking a larger portion of your time, it begins to become a startup.

All of the sudden, you’re involved in every side of the business. You’re promoting or advertising your app, you’re working with customers to better your product, your continually developing new features or solidifying old ones. You’re doing public relations, like sending out stickers or talking at local Meetups about your experiences. You might even be thinking about revenue, conversion and retention rates.

You are, essentially, running a business.

You might not be doing it full time, but all of the tell-tale signs are there. People talk about “taking a leap of faith” when you quit your job and work on your side-project full time, but I don’t think that “going full time” is actually a leap of faith.

The leap of faith is when you decide that you are going to take it upon yourself to make your side-project into a viable business, or promote it on a larger scale. You need to have the faith in yourself that you can market, you can do finances, you can do customer relations.

You’re not just a product developer anymore, you are a full blown founder of a startup.

So I’d like to invite you to take this leap of faith with me. If you’ve been working on a side-project and think that it would have legs as an actual business, take a deep breath and say these words with me:

“I have a Startup.”

Remember, I’m always available to you, so feel free to shoot me an email at anytime, and be sure to sign up for my newsletter below if you’d like more product development and launching tips.

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  • Gendeye

    Hi Matt. While casually browsing through Reddit, I stumbled upon on your post on the Startups subreddit. The line between the side project and a startup essentially is very blurred and you have found the just the right words to accurately describe that line.
    There are a lot of people on both sides of this line. Those for whom it still is a side project (like myself) and those who have tipped over. This realisation will change your life forever and set you on a wonderful life ahead. I congratulate you and wish you all the very best to you and your lovely family.

    • http://mattkremer.com Matt Kremer

      Hey Gendeye, thanks for stopping by! It was really strange to finally notice this change, like I said, I literally got goosebumps. I think your description of “tipping over” is definitely what I felt. I’m ready to give this thing my all! Have a great day :)

  • http://justinmcgill.net/ Justin McGill

    Good perspective Matt. Were your intentions not to have this be an actual startup though? Do you see yourself doing this full-time or did you expect that this would just be a little “side business”? I know where you are coming from though, nice write-up. :)

    • http://mattkremer.com Matt Kremer

      Hey Justin, I think that my intentions were always just to build something that people would use. I had never actually put a label on it. I’ve been calling it a “side-project” as I’m doing something else full time. But I don’t think that’s what really matters :)

  • ktillman

    Sounds like you have a small business, not a startup. A startup is not defined by the level of involvement in the core and tangential business, but by the intention to scale very large. And this is why people have to quit their job. Based on this article you’ve gone from side project to small business, not a startup. A startup is a temporary state of being. Small business that don’t’ scale are just that small businesses. There’s nothing wrong with this at all, just pointing out the differences of intent.

  • Cole Watts

    Great post, Matt! I constantly battle whether or not my side project is a business or not. It’s good to know that other people have that same issue.

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  • travelanimalDr

    Oh man… Interesting thoughts. I am learning new things everyday. Thanks for a great post!

  • http://www.jeremyhe.com Jeremy He

    a startup is just meaning too much. and you cannot do it unless all are planned and the funds, personnel and other issues. Or, there will be only one result, F. A. I. L.