Your startup is not a startup, it’s just a website.

Back in 2007 I started a free Blogspot web site in the gaming space. Within 6 months, via Google Adsense (and a couple other rev sources) it was bring in $3,800 a month.

A year later the site was receiving 110,000 uniques, 1.5 million page views and over $10,000 a month (with multiple rev sources). This juggernaut was a simple blog of mostly daily posts about games and in some cases those blog posts were simple reposts from the game’s own blog.

Impressed with what I had done, or more accurately, shocked at what had happened to me. I mentioned this at a startup conference to someone.

But what was I told by a certain successful startup guy?

“That’s not a startup. That’s just a website.”

Sure, falling bass-ackwards into a revenue stream does not make a startup a startup. Tons of unique visitors and page impressions don’t either.

So what does?

Would anyone consider the front page of this site, Crranky.com a startup? It’s a simple idea simply executed by me, a non-techical guy with no programming help. No?

Moving on from this I’ve attempted a “real” startup this time. Now with a little cash in my pocket, hiring a programmer, spending a year in development of a profile-type platform for tweens and teens. Think of it as About.me for virtual world profiles, called Funhouse.

Several thousand dollars poorer, no revenue and about 6,000 members later can I now consider myself a start up guy? A real startup guy? What about a serial entrepreneur?

My list goes on but I’ll spare you the clicks. I haven’t had the kind of “startup success” I did back when I had a free website, ad revenue and lots of traffic.

If the definition of startup is (and from what I read on Hacker News at times seems to be) being broke taking a great idea to a well executed functional MVP with the hope of someday being acquired, then no thanks.

I’ll take just a big revenue generating “website” any day.

Why? Because I am not interested in making a dent in the universe, at least right now.

I just need to pay some bills.

Take a quick look at my unique stainless steel products here.

21 Comments

  1. great post – I’ve seen how people who are dedicated to simply burn round after round with no revenue look down on people with ‘just’ a revenue generating business.

  2. If I had heard that response at a conference, I would have left right there and then. A “startup” does not suggest anything beyond the fact that what you have created is…well…starting. It’s something new that didn’t exist before that’s trying to make money. Every product/business is a startup a some point. I don’t believe a “startup” has to mean you have cool loft office, VCs with money or even a unique idea. If anything, your game blog *became* a startup even if you didn’t intend it to be one.

    I too started a web site with little motivation other than it being a fun side project. Surprisingly enough, people started using it and eventually even earned me some cash. It’s not a lot – not even the $3800 you saw – but any money is better than none, and just like that I had a startup. I don’t really walk around town telling people I have a startup but I would consider it one.

    In my experience, the “non-startup startups” like your game blog are the ones that succeed, not the “real” startups that have some sort of master plan to fortune and glory. Plus, when you start something without any real plans to make money, you’re much happier and motivated when you do.

    • Steve Blank & Eric Ries put it nicely.

      A Startup is a search for a solution and an associated business model..
      A company is an execution/optimisation of that business model.

      Your website is more mature than a startup in that it has solved it’s search. There shouldn’t be any ego in the entrepreneurial world – it’s 2 sides of the same coin.

  3. Sounds perfectly correct to me. Its like $14 a year for a .com domain and only $30 a year for cheap web hosting. Start a blog on sommat niche using an open source cms and thats it. For just under $0.12 investment a day and you have a business shell. If you spent just 30 min a day writing something new and original posts as you say the adsense will come in and even if you only made $1 a day thats still 88% profit your making every day on your original investment. Now, how many REAL startups do that then?

  4. TVD

    Poignant, clear and to the point.

    All that matters is results.

  5. I guess the definition of a startup is something that has the possibility of enduring a sustained exponential growth on revenues untill it makes its founders rich. (A sustained good revenue does not make it.)

    Your site was not a startup, it was a sucessfull ninche business. It had no possibility of growing much more, but was a great thing for you. Your other idea may be a startup or not, you didn’t share what you plan to do with it, so I can’t know.

    Anyway, that definition doesn’t depend on hiring programmers, salespeople or anybody.

  6. Good read. Thanks for sharing. My view of start ups has changed a lot recently. Claiming to be a successful start up, and not making money, or no having a plan to make money, sounds like a business doomed to fail to me.

  7. Jim

    A startup without revenue and funding will soon be closed up.

  8. Great read! I agree with Marcos’ definition of a startup.

  9. I’m somewhat glad that I see more popularization of the “I’m just doing [blah]” rather than labeling as a startup.

    Right now I’m working on a product and while I’m just starting out I don’t identify myself, nor the nascent not-even-a-real-company, a “startup”.

    I don’t work crazy hours. I stay healthy. I work and add features I want and I think my members will appreciate.

    I really hope we see more of the Instapaper/Tapbots/Pinboard style businesses. I believe those are healthier for everyone (including users) and that is the model I’m chasing.

  10. Judging by the front page of crranky and the roller coaster ride that is bootstrapping, I’d take a profitable web site over a “startup” any day.

    I suspect many different people have many different ideas, and expectations, of what a startup may or may not be.

  11. every dam websites coming up are called start-up. you see hundred of website which start off as blog or simple news website without any business plan and then turn out to be a start-up or company with decent revenue generation.

    i say you’r blog was a good seed for becoming a start up or business only if you had right plan to turn those users into customers.

    keeping aside the talk about start-up and company. at the end its all about making money.

  12. Funnily enough, something very similar happened to me (on a smaller scale). I still do believe that an informative website is a value added proposition and therefore it has all the features that any other start-up would have…

  13. Interesting read. Does Google Adsense still work despite of Panda attack?

  14. The best defination I have come across is from this excellent post by paul graham – http://paulgraham.com/wealth.html

    If you a pressed for time

    “A startup is a small company that takes on a hard technical problem.”

    I am inclined to replace technical with “tackles a hard problem technically”

  15. Jay

    Great article. I can’t tell you how many clients we build sites and apps for that are immediately discouraged if they’re not picked up by TechCrunch or the like. They feel that “real startups” would garner more attention by media or investors.

    Work hard and build your following, no matter what the product or path is. Success is how you define it.

  16. Great post. Now that I am thinking about it, I realized that my site/multi-blog is also a startup then, considering it has no direction whatsoever other than just useful content ;-)

    I think the biggest problem facing entrepreneurs is to find a viable business model. But I guess 9 times out of 10, there is NO viable business model from the start. Other than you just have to keep trying and pivot.

    Anyhow, the uncertainty of a startup is the biggest hurdle psychologically and one has to somehow be able to just deal with it…

  17. It’s a pretty interesting post.
    However, I still believe a successful startup can simply be a website.

  18. hey wonderful post! It is all about business right? Creating something out of an idea, then making it profitable.

    Technology enables business and furthers human experience.

    not business pays for dudes to play with tech waste the money, and do nothing but hockey stick projections on spreadsheets.

  19. Great post. inspiring. I always wondered why some “startup” people behave so elitist. I mean… I run a “startup” on my own. No funding, less income, but at least I can code it all myself. So no much harm done. Is it now a start up? Or just a guy with a website? A website stays a website even when it has some forms in it and have not paid except for hosting. Is a startup always related to investing much money?

    Anyway, I am pretty much impressed you made so much money via AdSense. I would wish my startup would make half of it!

  20. Would this kind of blog work these days with Googles updates? Also wouldn’t there be copyright issues to simply re-post another blog?