The Greatest Startup Story of All-Time
Tim Westergren and his rugged journey founding Pandora is the greatest startup story — by far — that I’ve ever heard (or maybe second to the Founding Fathers starting America).
I was meeting with a friend last night to discuss her startup. We were talking about the mindset of absolute persistence it takes to be successful. This morning, I sent her the NYTimes article, “How Pandora Slipped Past the Junkyard.” I think it’s so inspiring that I keep an excerpt tacked to my desk:
By the end of 2001, he had 50 employees and no money. Every two weeks, he held all-hands meetings to beg people to work, unpaid, for another two weeks. That went on for two years.
Meanwhile, he appealed to venture capitalists, charged up 11 credit cards and considered a company trip to Reno to gamble for more money. The dot-com bubble had burst, and shell-shocked investors were not interested in a company that relied on people, who required salaries and health insurance, instead of computers.
In March 2004, he made his 348th pitch seeking backers. Larry Marcus, a venture capitalist at Walden Venture Capital and a musician, decided to lead a $9 million investment.
“The pitch that he gave wasn’t that interesting,” Mr. Marcus said. “But what was incredibly interesting was Tim himself. We could tell he was an entrepreneur who wasn’t going to fail.”
Let’s do a little math: from the beginning in 1999 to his breakthrough investment in 2004, Tim gave 348 pitches in roughly 225 weeks. That’s three pitches every two weeks for five years — PLUS being told “no” about 99.9% of the time.
Not only was Tim’s pace unbelievable, but he had to withstand the brutal mental hardship of repeated rejections all while shouldering the responsibility of payroll, revenues, and strategy.
Some might say this level of persistence is actually naive or bad business. Sure, it turned out well, but to go on as long as he did without the traction he needed may not be the smartest thing. I totally get that. But it doesn’t make this story any less awe-inspiring.
Thanks, Tim, for the example you set.