by Tim Jahn on December 14, 2010
Chad Stansbury had a great job as Director of IT for a major hotel chain. When he looked around for suitable software to exercise his long form writing skills, Chad couldn’t find something that fit his need.
Last January, Chad decided that instead of spending his saved money on some sort of mid-life crisis sports car, he’d scratch his itch. So he quit his safe job and began working on Scriptito, a set of online tools for writers.
I interviewed Chad to learn about the challenges of starting a business with a family and kids, and why he even chose to start a company instead of buying something for himself.
Chad Stansbury: My name is Chad Stansbury. I founded Scriptito, which is a site for writers and readers. I founded it — well actually I left my job as director of IT at Carlton Hotels in January of this year with the purpose of establishing Scriptito as a website available to anyone who wants to write on the Internet.
Scriptito I started, I quit in January and I worked on it and I put it out in beta in March 1st and it became publicly available on June 1st. Its primary purpose is for writers and a lot of people ask me, well we’ve got something like Google docs already available or you have WordPress for blogging so where does Scriptito fit in? And Scriptito is really not in competition with those. Google docs is all about creating document and developing a lifestyle around a document or a single document.
Blogging of course is great for writing short articles and that sort of thing. And Scriptito’s much more for people who want to write longer works like of course works of fiction, nonfiction novels, perhaps research papers; anything that might take much more of a long effort than either would be appropriate for blogs or for something like Google docs.
Tim Jahn: So you had a family. You had a wife, you had two kids and you had a full time job at a pretty big company; I’m sure things were pretty good. Why leave?
Chad Stansbury: Well, you know, I’ve been thinking about that a lot and really when it comes down to it you can get really philosophical about it. But there are various reasons. From one is I’ve been with the hotels organization for going on seven years. So being a person like myself that’s a long time to be in any one place.
So for one I needed change I think. And the other big thing was that I saw an opportunity. One of the things I was looking for change around that time was perhaps it might be better for me to tackle a different skill set than what is basically — I have two skills right now. One is, my primary skill is technical so I do all that computer architecture and program. And the other one is that I’ve always been dabbling with on the side was woodworking. But the other one, the third one that I’ve always really wanted to do was writing. I’m pretty good at writing, however my writing was limited to technical documentation, user documentation; that type of thing.
And so really I was looking around, well if I want to exercise my writing skills more in terms of fiction or historical fiction, how do I go about doing that? And being a dad, you have very little time. So I was looking for okay, if I want to write, what times do I have available? Well, first of all there’s the morning hours, there are the evening hours.
But those are really kind of reserved my wife. So it really came down to, well there’s my lunch hour. And usually I go about searching tech sites, reading up on new technology; that type of thing. I thought, “Well, perhaps it would be good to devote some of that time to writing.” And I was looking for any tools that might be available for me to do that. Now of course there was the Google docs and there was the blogs but none of them really fit what I needed. So I started looking at, well what’s available for a desktop software and there’s a couple good packages, Scribner being one, Stories being another.
But they’re a Mac only and I used Word, or excuse me Microsoft Windows at my office. And the other problem with those, those are desktop applications. When I’m on travel, I want to be able to access them and I traveled a lot with Hotel organization. And I wanted to have access to my writings. And so then of course the light bulb went off in saying, well if it’s not — if these are my requirements, and they’re not being met, then perhaps there are people in the same position as me who might something like Scriptito to be a valuable asset.
So it was an opportunity, I had the idea, I saw the need for myself and the other thing is in terms of opportunity, I had the skills to implement it and I had the savings. That’s the important thing is I — this is bootstrapped effort. And certainly the amount, the rule for being an entrepreneur is don’t run out of money. And I had always — this is actually my second entrepreneurial effort to, about in ’99 I formed a consulting company with some buddies of mine.
And that ran for three years pretty well until 9/11 hit. And of course our major client was American Airlines. And so once we lost American Airlines with 9/11, things kind of tanked and I took the safe, you know, the safe job at that point. And but I’ve always been looking for opportunities to develop a product that I can call my own and have some pride in it. So I’ve always made a point in saving up. I don’t buy things I don’t need, I make sure that which I do buy lasts me a long time. So I’m somewhat, I wouldn’t call it frugal. I just make sure I buy only that which I need.
And it’s good just to be fiscally conservative in case things go wrong. But also for these opportunities. I mean, if you want to jump on an opportunity then you’re able to do it. So I had been saving money for quite a while and so I had the means. And finally, I had the support of my wife. What’s important is they’re on the rye just as much as you are. Your family and your wife are on the rye. So you need to make sure that they’re comfortable with starting off on that journey.
Tim Jahn: How did your wife respond when you decided to quit and to start this? I mean, I guess she had a taste of it a few years ago when you started your consultancy.
Chad Stansbury: Well, that was actually before I met her. So — and she took it well. In fact, she encouraged me which is nice because again, I was in, I wouldn’t call it a rut, but I think she sensed my dissatisfaction with just the status quo.
And honestly, she’s, she knew that well, I’m 40 years old now, got two kids, we have the money. Either that money would be risked being spent on some mid-life crisis sports car or it could be something on a little more meaningful like Scriptito.
Tim Jahn: I like that. Forget the sports car, let’s start a company.
Chad Stansbury: Yeah, and that’s — you know you see that a lot. I think mid-life crisis is more like people not wanting to spend money for senselessly. I think it’s them trying to find a purpose.
And maybe a sports car fulfills the purpose, I don’t know. I think it’s a little more shallow than something more meaningful. But if that satisfies you, great. But for me, that wouldn’t have been the case.
Tim Jahn: So how did you transition from having the full time job as an IT director at a big hotel company to starting your own business? Did you transition or did you just jump in head first?
Chad Stansbury: Just jumped in head first. And you know, I saw a great quote on of all things PBS last night. It was talking about this, it was an advertisement for a circus show that they have coming up, it’s in a couple weeks. And there was a 47 year old guy who had apparently just left his job and joined the circus at 47. And his quote, he quoted Ray Bradbury who said, “It’s best just to jump off the cliff and develop your wings on the way down.”
And I thought, well that’s — I had to write that down because I knew we were going to have this interview today. And I thought, that’s exactly what I did. It’s best just to jump in headfirst. Now the key there is how you define success and that’s what I sat down with my wife as well as when you know when I was talking to her about the odds of me doing this. We talked about well what’s the definition of success? And well, the key to success in this case I think is not is to love the ride and to make sure that those who are on the ride with you love it just as much as you do.
So those people that are on the ride with me obviously are my wife and kids. So, we said, well how do I make sure that you enjoy this journey regardless of the destination that we eventually wind up at? How do we make sure that it’s a success to all of us? And the keys to success there was to make sure that even though I’d be working some longer hours that I made sure that when the kids came home, I was available to them just as if I would have been working a normal job.
And so this — the key is to not let it impact your family life whatsoever. And in fact is to make sure that you become more available to them when they need you. That’s the great thing about working out of your house is if your wife has to up and leave to pick someone up or whatever, that you make that convenient for her. And in doing so, she’s enjoyed every bit of this last year just as much as I have. So even though it’s been very hard work, if you love what you’re doing then the old adage goes, “You never work a day in your life.” Right? So that’s — but that’s been this last year. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it really.
Tim Jahn: That’s awesome. After you quit your job then, what was the first step you took towards starting Scriptito? What was that first step?
Chad Stansbury: Well, it’s obviously planning out the release of Scriptito, the feature set to make sure that you get the biggest bang for your buck early on. And so with an internet startup they say, to keep it simple. Unfortunately with Scriptito there was a rather large set of requirements to fulfill in order to develop a core product that people need. It’s a non attributable effort to develop an online word processor. And so that took a great deal of effort.
And so that was the prime — developing that core software was the first thing. And then putting it out there as quickly as possible to let your beta users play around with it, work out the kinks that type of thing. So it’s developing a release schedule, figuring out what your milestones and then engaging people to make sure that you’re hitting the right feature set at the right time.
Tim Jahn: Yeah, I can imagine developing a word processor is no easy task.
Chad Stansbury: No it’s — well, what’s really nice is living in today’s world, what would have been insurmountable task just five or ten years ago is now easily doable by anyone with some manner of experience.
And I consider myself pretty technical but I believe anyone could have done it with the right I guess experience. It’s just — there’s a lot of open source software that you can build your — you know, you don’t have to write. So it becomes much easier, it becomes more of an integration task and making sure it’s bulletproof than it is creating, reinventing the wheel from the ground up.
Tim Jahn: It’s so true. What’s been the biggest challenge over the past year in developing this?
Chad Stansbury: I think the biggest part is because I am on my own; I have some help with some more technical people along the way. But really, the hardest part has been developing the whole site. There’s much more to a site than a word processor. There’s your home page, there’s your tour, there’s your contact us, there’s your help documents.
So there’s a — when you’re thinking about a product like it, an online word processor, you just see the tip of the iceberg that which is useful to the user. But there’s a whole mass of supporting artifacts that you need as part of website to be there so that when you’re customers have help that you can go to it easily. And being a one man startup at this point, you want to make sure that they go to the site to get the help as opposed to coming to you because you’re spending most of your time developing the new features or documenting the existing features. So you really want to minimize, I don’t want to say the impact, but minimize how much of your time that your users need in order to be successful on your site.
Tim Jahn: That’s a great piece of advice. And building on that, what’s the one piece of advice you’d give someone who wants to quit their corporate job and start their own company?
Chad Stansbury: I would say that again it goes back to defining what success is. Certainly if Scriptito doesn’t take off like I had hoped, it may very well become a hobby for me. So, your definition of success will really depend on you.
If your definition of success is to make a million dollars, then your odds are very small and I think your stress factor will increase, especially if you don’t have the financial base to keep you going or if it’s a success/fail thing where failure puts you in a very bad state, then I think your stress level will be enormous compared to what it is with me.
If people love it and use it, great. If they don’t, well, you know, it’s great for me. I’ve developed something I’ve liked. So you really need to make sure that you go into, you jump into the pool for the right reason and that even if you were to sink, it wouldn’t be a bad thing, right?
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