Superpath: Zero to One

About six months ago, Superpath closed a milestone deal. Business was chugging along but not thriving. This one deal had a real impact. It opened my eyes to a more exciting future than the one I'd been stressing about.

At dinner that evening, I told my wife about it. She was really excited, and she was also really frustrated that I was having trouble enjoying it. After listening to my "It's just one deal" and "We have so many problems to deal with" talk for a bit, she left the house and returned home 20 minutes later with a bottle of champagne. "You're gonna learn to enjoy the wins," she told me, "or this business is going to make you miserable."

And, wow, she was so right! We popped champagne and talked about how far the business had come and all the things that actually had worked. I've been making a real effort to find joy in the day-to-day of running Superpath. And you know, it really works. The mindset change didn't change the business, but it's helped me feel less stress and keep my attention on the bigger picture. Of course, the business has problems—all businesses have problems—but it can still be enjoyable, and I can still take a moment to celebrate the progress.

(On a side note, the "secret" to success is a rock-solid partner who builds you up and holds you accountable to living the life you want. For that and so many other things, I'm eternally grateful.)

Zero to One

I've been wanting to write about Superpath for a while now but haven't because "it's not big enough" and "we have too many challenges to lose focus," and so on. But, I feel now that Superpath has made the leap from "zero to one," and it feels like a good time to share some of the progress (and failures) of the first two years in business. We are still duct-taped together but are making real money. I no longer worry that the whole thing will collapse if I lose focus for five minutes. It's a win that I'm soaking in after months of losing money and sleep, wondering if this thing will ever work.

I'll approach the rest of this piece as an FAQ. Some of these are questions that people have actually asked, others are prompts for me to share what I feel are the most important lessons.

Is Superpath a real business? How do you make money?

I think so! We're on a >$500,000 run rate and in the process of hiring our first team member. To date, it's been me and a few contractors doing the work. Walter Chen and Haley Bryant advise me. It's been a very lean operation. I plan to keep it lean but am thrilled to start building a team.

Superpath is built around a free Slack community. We have more than 7,000 people there but we don't charge them. I learned in my time as the Animalz sales guy that it's a lot easier to sell to packages to businesses, so that's where I focus.

We have four lines of business:

  • A job board: companies pay to get their job listings in front of our community and newsletter.
  • A paid membership: companies can sign their team up to get courses, office hours, networking calls and a few other goodies.
  • Sponsorships: companies pay for ad space in our newsletter and Slack community.
  • A marketplace: we match companies with vetted content creators and take a cut of the payments.

I think we may start new lines of business in the future, but each of these needs to be nurtured right now.

Why haven't you raised money? Is this a "lifestyle business?"

Walter Chen, the founder of Animalz and Sacra, put up money to help me get going. He owns a big chunk of Superpath in exchange for that money. It's not VC money, but it is an investment. We agreed on a few core values before coming to this agreement. For example, we agreed that Superpath should be a cash flow business. The goal is to create a sustainable, profitable business that I enjoy running. If we do that, both of us get a great return (me on my time, Walter on his investment). It is possible that we sell the business one day, but that should be a side effect of creating a nice business, not the end-all-be-all goal of rapid growth.

I used to call Superpath a lifestyle business, but I've stopped. I used that term to mask my insecurity about how small we were—I actually found that calling it a lifestyle business short-changed my desire to grow it into a great company. Once we started making more money, I found myself exhilarated by the business. I couldn't wait to keep working on it and felt more energy than ever to keep going.

This is not a commentary on lifestyle businesses. I've just found that it's not a label I identify with. I still value work-life equilibrium. But I see an opportunity to go for it and I'm doing just that.

What's been the hardest part of starting a company?

The hardest part is doing it alone.

I left my job at Animalz at the end of May 2020. The pandemic was just getting started (little did I know), and I left a team of ~50 people that I loved working with to go it alone. So, I didn't have any teammates, and the pandemic meant my social life dried up too. I found myself going days on end without talking to anyone or even leaving the house. I pined for a team to work with and some friends to hang out with. Thankfully, both situations are improving.

I've sought out connections with other people who love to talk business. I have regular calls with a former boss/now mentor. I get coffee with local business folks to talk shop. I keep my parents in the loop (even though I'm still not quite sure they know what I do 😆). I run lots of ideas past my wife. This is helpful for me, but these people cheer me on too. They feel invested and want to know what happens next.

It's clear to me now that it takes a village. And to put it another way, I am the village. I show up each day to do the work, but I'm the accumulation of my intrinsic motivation as well as the energy of all the people who offer encouragement and advice.

What's the easiest part of starting a company?

No one has ever asked me this, but if you're thinking of starting a business, I think it's a helpful question to ponder. If you don't have some kind of advantage, it's going to be really hard to get going.

For me, the easiest part of starting Superpath was that I had an existing reputation and audience in the content marketing industry. Years spent writing blog posts, especially on the Animalz blog, helped me reach a lot of people. Those 50 or so blog posts were the best thing that ever happened to my career.

In some ways, I think of Superpath as a way of turning my own reputation into equity. I'm careful never to exploit the people that follow my work. My goal is always win-win: if I help you win, then Superpath wins as a side effect.

When it came time to launch Superpath, I created a "coming soon" page and shared it with my Twitter followers and newsletter subscribers. Within a few days, 195 people had signed up to learn more. A handful of those people ended up being our first paying customers. (Special shout out to Len Markidan for being the very first one.) It was the little bit of momentum I needed to start stacking wins. It would have been so much harder to start without an audience.

What advice do you have for other people who want to start businesses?

Look, I don't know anything. I'll never be a startup guru. There's so much variability and nuance involved in launching a business. I could tell you how to start Superpath, but only if you started it in a vacuum where every circumstance was identical to what I experienced.

Still, here are a few personal lessons that may be helpful:

  • Consider an alternative funding framework. As I mentioned, Walter Chen put up money to help me get going. Part of our agreement was that I'd draw a salary from day one. At the time, I had a new mortgage and a baby on the way. I couldn't have gone without a salary and this setup made Superpath possible. There's a lot of room between bootstrapping and VC money.
  • No-code is the real deal. Starting a venture-backed SaaS company isn't the only way. You will likely need to raise a boatload of money and be forced to grow really fast. There are so many other types of businesses to be built, and "no-code" makes this really cheap and fast. Superpath runs on Slack, Airtable, Zapier and Squarespace. Those tools cost us less than $200/month. We got our marketplace to $30,000/month with about $50/month in expenses. We may invest in our own software one day, but we'll do it with our own profits and at a pace that feels comfortable.
  • An exit is a byproduct of success, not an end goal. We've had three acquisition conversations to date. One resulted in a real offer. I considered each thoroughly, but each time felt that it was too early to sell. We're just getting started. I'm trying to build a company that I enjoy running so that I can do this for a long time. I think of an exit as purely hypothetical. It could happen, but it's not a success or a failure. It's just about what feels right. For now, it's all about profitability and sustainability.
  • Seek out specific advice, not general self-help. I recently found out what goblin mode is and I'm all about it. Early in my career, I consumed so much self-help content (think Tim Ferriss and the like). Now, I actively avoid it. Before I started a business, reading/listening to that stuff was navel-gazing. I never did anything with it, but I felt enlightened. It turns out that stuff isn't really helpful when you're actually starting a business. Today, I do seek out specific content based on the very specific challenges that Superpth is currently facing. I've found that self-help content is an easy way to feel inadequate. To seek improvement implies imperfection. And honestly, it feels like shit. Don't bombard yourself with this stuff just because you see people on Twitter hyping it up. Unlocking specific problems, on the hand, feels awesome.
  • It's fucking hard! A few years ago, I set a goal to run a 100-mile race and start a business. I've done both of those things now, and both were incredibly difficult. I thought I was signing up for a singular moment of elation in each case, but actually, I was signing up for a day-to-day grind. It's a lot of hard work. (At least there's a finish line to cross in the race.) This is why my wife's advice resonated with me so much. I chose this path, and it's mine to shape. If I hate doing it, it's my own fault. And if I can find joy in it even while small fires burn all around me, then I've nailed it.

Thanks for reading. I plan to write more about Superpath. If there are specific things you want to know, hit me up on Twitter.

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