When I first began developing the idea for Baking for Good, I figured the path to building my startup was simple. I'd quit my job, wrap myself in a little cocoon for a few months, toiling away and eating salad, and then emerge as a beautiful entrepreneurial butterfly, delivering brownies and cookies to friends and family in times of sadness or celebration. But that's not how it worked out in the end.
Early on, I ignored the advice of some older, wiser people who encouraged me to speak with as many people as I could. Instead, I dove in and started to develop the concept in relative isolation. I drafted business plans, sketched website frameworks, and edited recipes while planted in my seat on a 5-hour flight or alone at a hotel room desk late at night (at the time, I was traveling to Seattle every week for my consulting firm.)
All of the decisions I made, I made independently. I decided it would be quickest and most cost- effective to outsource the web development to a firm in India. Ten minutes later, I submitted a request for proposals on the online freelancing website Elance.com and chose the lowest bidder ($400! To build my whole website! In 3 months!). I was a master at PowerPoint; all I had to do was set up the pages of the website in a PowerPoint template and email them to Partho, my friendly developer, who would then give the pages online functionality and even throw in his own design expertise.
But it turned out Partho's design expertise wasn't exactly in line with the look I was going for. I tried to explain the concept of a bake sale to him. I even emailed him a link to Wikipedia's entry on it. To this day, I have not shared with a single person the initial designs he came up with. The look was all wrong: lime green and bright purple with a giant grinning Barney-like dinosaur mascot.
I wasn't ready to give up on Partho just yet, and when he submitted a request for another $400 because the project was bigger than he had anticipated, I readily gave it to him. Much to my dismay, once the transaction cleared, I never heard from him again.
In truth, Partho's abandonment of my project was a blessing in disguise. Around this time I met with a friend who gave me the advice that you only get one shot to launch your website, and it's worth making it look professional on the first go. I took this to heart, deactivated my Elance account, and started calling up designers and developers in NYC. My meetings were both invigorating and terrifying. Promises of awesome, beautiful websites and great support contrasted with price tags of tens of thousands of dollars and timelines of several months. So much for a $400, 3-month investment.
I ultimately began working with Paperwhite Studios to brand the site and Crush + Lovely to develop it. Now I had a team that shared my vision of an online bake sale and had the skills to bring it to life. Not only that, but I could actually meet with them, stopping by for impromptu brainstorming sessions or picking up the phone to share a new thought. Each step took many more days or weeks than I wanted it to, and I had to adjust to letting others do some of the thought work. But the site was so much better for it, the business cards so much prettier for it. I was proud to show it off and get the input of others, whereas previously I had wanted to keep it all to myself until it was "ready."
There are downsides to talking to as many people as you can. Everyone's got their opinions on what's best for you, what changes you should make, what really awesome feature would make the site so sweet. I had to learn to take every comment as a suggestion, to use what I could and keep everything else in the back of my mind. Crush + Lovely helped me put this all in perspective. They encouraged me to keep things simple: make sure initial site visitors can grasp the whole concept easily, and build from there. This was not only the sensible solution, it was also a much more cost-effective one than building in all the possible functionality in the beginning (and then having to fix or tear things down if they didn't work out).
In September 2009 we launched a simple but elegant website. It was my company, but I didn't go at it alone. Nor was I right to think that I could.