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A “Not” Company

Published March 20th, 2011

"Here's to the crazy ones..." — that's how famous Steve Jobs quote starts. There have been many successes in the latest Web 2.0 renaissance, but mostly, it has been powered by three external powers: The Silicon Valley, The Money and The Fortune. I write that with capital letters, because it all plays a huge role in how those successes came to be.

But what about the power of “Not”? What I mean by that is the companies, that have embraced the “Not” to fuel their success. Here is our story of “Not”: Not in the Silicon Valley, Not funded, Not an overnight success. It all made a difference.

Not in the Silicon Valley

Not in the Silicon Valley. We started 500px back in 2003, when it was just a very special type of photo community, full year before even Flickr was started. It grew slowly and steadily, and so it required own web-site, which was built and went live in 2005. In 2009, we have envisioned a new path, and so we completely re-designed and re-engineered the site. It went live on Halloween, and quickly began growing since. The results? In terms of traffic it grew 56 times from the best results before launch. Mainly, being outside the valley means that you are on your own, relying only on your ideas and inspirations — there’s no ‘starbucks gossip’ about Next Big Thing, and few things happen that shake the frozen city of Toronto.

Not Funded

Not funded. Being a bootstrapped startup means a lot behind the words: It means believing in what you do. It often means living below even poverty line. It means 0$ salaries. It means getting praises and criticism daily and directly. It means working more and earning less. Is it worth it? I would argue, that getting $40,000,000 (Tumblr) or $360,000,000 (Twitter) or even $2,340,000,000 (Yes, two billion in funding — that’s Facebook) in funding makes things a little easier — happy employees, no worries about the next day, and at least ability to make things right by buying brightest people or latest technology. We started with $0, and, 2 years later, none of us have earned a single dollar from the site.

Not an Overnight Success

Not an overnight success. It took 6 years to brew from initial idea to the next idea and it took 1.5 years in constant daily work to grow the site from where it was to where it is now — 1,400,000 visits per month, 10,000,000 page views and 45,000+ members. It's easy to hope for an overnight success, or look at Facebook as an example. Nothing of that sort happens regularly, so it's not worth betting everything on a one to a billion chance. However, as Gladwell Malcolm put it, it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert on a subject. Here, we are slowly approaching this number, but didn't hit it yet. Yes, we still struggling to introduce features, working around the clock to support 40+% monthly growth. Yes, sometimes things don’t work. But we work in circumstances where we are limited in resources, human power and capital which we need in order to take us to the next level.

However, sometimes money and humans don’t change it overnight. Money seem to make no difference in Twitter’s famous 2 years of struggling with fail whale. 40 million dollars didn’t matter to Tumblr’s 24 hours of downtime.

Close Encounter with the Stars

Being a “Not” company is far from easy — i’d say it is extremely hard, closer to the impossible. But being this close to impossible is fun too. Who would have thought that we would grow to getting so close to such monsters as Mashable, Reddit, Digg or Tumblr. We are just 4 times smaller than Mashable in terms of page views, just 8 times less visitors than Digg, and, well, 25 times less than Reddit in page views. As for Tumblr, it’s amazing 1540% growth during last year didn’t stop us from being just 14 times less (all statistical data is from TechCrunch).

Being a “Not” company means that we can dream bigger, beautiful dreams and not to be captured by valley-mania of birth and death of next Googles and Facebooks.

PS: And now you can ask us anonymous questions about us and site in any language on formspring.me/500px.

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Eddy D  over 6 years ago

nice blog. keep it up peoples. dream the dream, then live it!