CEO Friday: Startups are an Expedition through Hostile, Uncharted Terrain

David Barrett —  June 3, 2011 — 3 Comments

“Go West, young man!” Those words have rung true for many a generation, and will likely ring for many more.  Sure, the meaning of “west” has gradually become more precise, and the tools have definitely changed.  But the spirit remains the same: leave the comfort of where you are for the danger, excitement, and opportunity of the unknown.

Granted, our generation has it considerably easier. I haven’t heard of a single startup fail due to dysentery, bear attack, or by falling prey to any of the unimaginable physical hardships our ancestors endured. But I do think those same ancestors would recognize some of the emotional hardships we face on a daily basis. The tremendous personal investment with an entirely uncertain return. The constant skepticism by your peers. The lonely nights working in the dark while other, more sensible folk are comfortably tucked away or out with friends. The trail isn’t as hard as it was. But it’s still pretty hard.

And one of the most difficult times, oddly, is when you stumble out of the swampy woods and into the soft expanse of a fertile valley. Because then you need to decide: do you stop here, or keep going?

Expensify’s path hasn’t been a straight one. We spent forever carefully plotting a course in one direction, only to hit an unfordable river right as we found a tempting tail into the woods. That took us to a steep wall, which we climbed merely because we had no other option. Which took us to another, and then another. There was more than a little hardship along the way.

But it’s taken us to a wide, verdant, entirely unexplored landscape known generally as “expense reports that don’t suck”.

I could rave for ages about how fantastic it is here. Viral dynamics have combined with mobile marketplaces — all enabled by the consumerization of IT — to create a once-only customer acquisition opportunity that looks like it’ll keep accelerating steadily at essentially no cost, forever. We’ve got an unbeatable customer set of business travelers — high spend individuals who spend other peoples’ money. We’ve got a surprisingly small and tight product that addresses the needs of a surprisingly wide set of users. The view from our high mountain pass is fantastic, with easy inroads to many other valleys.

Things are really, really good in the Expensify Valley, and they’re only going to get better.

But do we stop here? That’s the core question. After all, there’s more than enough opportunity to keep us busy for years. Why bother trying to find more?  The answer is: because not all opportunity is created equal.

Yes, things are great, and we’re absolutely going to take care of the many, many users who depend upon us. But we’re not quite ready to settle. Our valley is surrounded by even more interesting opportunitites, extending as far as the eye can see.  There’s gold in them thar hills, and we’re determined to find it.

Basically, I’d say we have the basics down cold.  We’re the clear leader in small business expense reporting, we have a quickly growing userbase, everything is looking up.  But we’ve only got the basics down cold.  It’s time to go beyond the basics and start raising the bar — redefining the state of the art.

Our first move along these lines was our receipt scanning service.  If you haven’t already checked it out, give it a shot — every account starts with ten free scans.  (Invite a friend and you’ll both get five more, or buy them for $0.20 each.)  We’re not even a month into it and it’s already proven to be incredibly popular.  But we’ve got a few others planned, and they just keep getting better.

So things might be quiet for a bit while we settle in to our idyllic valley and set up a permanent camp.  We’ve got a large stack of work in front of us, including massive performance improvements, improved mobile apps, streamlined accounting flows, an so on.  They’ll be trickling out here and there, sticking with our goal of just getting a little better every day.

But one day soon, when you least expect it, something big is going to happen.  And man, I just can’t wait to show you what it is.

David Barrett

Posts

Founder of Expensify, destroyer of expense reports, and savior to frustrated employees worldwide.

3 responses to CEO Friday: Startups are an Expedition through Hostile, Uncharted Terrain

  1. 

    “Expensify’s path hasn’t been a straight one. We spent forever carefully plotting a course in one direction, only to hit an unfordable river right as we found a tempting tail into the woods. That took us to a steep wall, which we climbed merely because we had no other option. Which took us to another, and then another. There was more than a little hardship along the way.”

    Should’ve used .NET, dude – you’d have crossed that river without pausing ;-)

  2. 

    Haha. Unfortunately the river was filled red tape, not technology.

  3. 

    Apologies, couldn’t resist :)

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