To raise money, or not to raise money...

I’ve been talking casually with a few angel investors* over the course of the summer about gawk.it and the potential to raise a small seed round. The idea would be to allow me to focus on it full time and scale it up quick.

I’ve also had a handful of friends/mentors/coaches/advisors and potential partners all weigh in with thoughts and opinions on just what the proper approach and next steps should be.

Needless to say, it’s been a fun and exciting few months. I’ve had a lot of *really* educational and interesting talks, and I’m really thankful to have so many people interested and excited for gawk.it and helping me out.

After all of it though, it hasn’t actually made any of my decisions easier, and I have felt like a real flip-flopper throughout as I have struggled with making the right long-term decision (frustrating many of the involved parties as well I’m sure)…but it has been a great personal experience.

Anyway, after all those talks, the decision that I’ve come to is that there’s still a ton more I can and should do with gawk.it before I officially try to take other people’s money.

So I’m going to continue to not be aggressive about investor talks (but still very open and friendly to engaging in them where and when it makes sense, because I’m a believer in developing relationships and keeping them engaged and informed) - and I’m going to remain entirely focused on just pushing gawk.it further ahead pre-funding for at least a bit longer.

To be completely open, a large part of this decision is actually related to my current day job.

I’m the CTO (and have a small stake) of a privately held startup called pubgears.

It’s been around for a couple of years, has been profitable every month since we started, and is currently serving up about 50,000,000 million ad calls a day for our clients through the technology I’m building (and we don’t have all our clients actually using my tech. yet – plus we continue to sign more and more clients).

I joined the team back in Dec. of 2011. They basically had no tech. at the time (they did have a few outsourced things but they weren’t actually using them)…today, we have a highly scalable custom-built tagserver, partially automated reporting, and some optimization systems and processes.

Back when I joined I made the personal commitment to get them in a situation with tech. that could help the company scale, and we are making a lot of progress on that front…but we aren’t all the way there yet.

It’s not just a nice talking point, I really believe in fulfilling my commitments (prob. to a fault). And I *really* want this win as well.

So I just wouldn’t feel right jumping out of pubgears until I’ve got them further down the path I sold them on and set for them (and found the proper team to transition this to so that their future remained bright).

At the same time, the truth is that I’m enjoying the work and the challenge of scaling pubgears, but it’s not really my baby.

Ad tech is not my passion. It pays the bills and what we are doing *should* be a big win very soon.

But I would love to be able to focus on gawk.it full time instead.

And so that’s the long term plan – get pubgears to scale, grow gawk.it to a point that it support me full time, and then make the transition happen (and maybe raise some seed if, at that time, money is the real roadblock to big success with gawk.it).

So, anyway, where does that leave me with my plans around gawk.it at the moment?

Basically I have 3 immediate goals and focus around gawk.it. Here they are:

1. Test my revenue model ideas starting at tiny scale.

The initial concept is sponsored results and I’m going to be releasing details on this in the next few days or so – so stay tuned.

Once the features are released for sponsored results, work to build it up enough to cover my operation costs right now (ie. cover my monthly server costs).

This will require some code and design work I haven’t finished yet on the backend, and then a bit of manual sales and outreach ongoing. Sooner rather than later, I will also have to set up a bank account and ‘official’ company to make sure the books are all on the level and in order (the downside to actual revenue!).

At the start, I expect to put in about 3-5 hours a week focusing on this goal and set of tasks.

BTW - if you’re already interested in reaching gawk.it searchers, and want the best deal for being first-in, then please do reach out!

2. Get additional blogs to install gawk.it to power their search feature.

This will require a bunch of code and design work at the moment, and then a bunch of marketing and outreach ongoing. The idea is to define and streamline tools and a process for this, so that over time it becomes a self-serve model (and something an employee can be trained to help with)

Right now, I expect to put in about 20-30 hours a week focusing on these goals and I expect to be able to conservatively add about 3-5 blogs on an average week to the gawk.it system.

BTW - if you’ve got a blog that you would like to have gawk.it search installed on, please do reach out!

3. Everything else related to gawk.it right now is less important and will either be:

A. Blogger requested (to help get a conversion or to help improve the system across the board for all bloggers)

B. Searcher requested (to help improve the experience for those that search). This includes a bit of clean up and tweaking to the 'monitors’ features (which plays a big part in the overall 'searcher experience’ long term).

C. Advertiser requested (to help close a sale – so long as it improves the overall gawk.it experience or falls in line with the blogger needs and searcher experience).

And that’s it (enough) for now.

Yes, it could be a mistake or missed opportunity to not go full speed, 100% on raising money for gawk.it right now.

Yes, it will be exhausting to keep both projects pushing forward every single day (but this level of work/effort is how I’ve lived my last 10 years at least, so it’s very sustainable and really just routine for me now – the secret to any of my success def. isn’t 'smarts’, it’s 'outwork everyone else’).

But the last thing I want to do is risk someone else’s money…but worse than risking it, is actually losing it.

I think gawk.it is going to make a handful of people a whole lot of money, but I need to prove that, even if just on a small scale, before I ask others to really believe it too.

…and it’s really just a bonus that I can continue to fulfill more of my obligation to pubgears as I do all of this (bonus as in, I can actually sleep at night without feeling like a total louse for the rest of my life because I welched on a personal commitment).

What do think? Am I crazy here?

* In fact, I’ve already had one official 'pass’ even though I didn’t realize I was making an official 'ask’ in our one meeting (just shows how bad of a 'pitch guy’ I am!).

So this was a good lesson learned, even if you are talking, you are making an official 'ask’ in one way or another.

On a personal level, as rejection always is, it was very disappointing to get that email. But I also really appreciated the quick decision as it saves me a lot of time and energy at my current stage (my *most* limited resource).

Ultimately I don’t think it hurts gawk.it or my vision/goals/plan at all. I’m certain there will be many other 'Nos’ and rejections along the path (actually a sign that there is new and unique value here).

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This is the personal blog of Kevin Marshall (a.k.a Falicon) where he often digs into side projects he's working on for digdownlabs.com and other random thoughts he's got on his mind.

Kevin has a day job as CTO of Veritonic and is spending nights & weekends hacking on Share Game Tape. You can also check out some of his open source code on GitHub or connect with him on Twitter @falicon or via email at kevin at falicon.com.

If you have comments, thoughts, or want to respond to something you see here I would encourage you to respond via a post on your own blog (and then let me know about the link via one of the routes mentioned above).