The founder of parent-travel website FamiliesGo! chronicles her start-up shuffle.
Tuesday was an interesting day.
At 8:30 in the morning I found out I’d lost my prospective partner. At 1:30 p.m. my web designer emailed to say the website was pretty much ready to go—except my hotel listings still looked like a mish-mash of different drafts we’d tried. While we were hashing that out, my programmer emailed at 2:30 to ask what I’d been doing on the website that day because all the home page content had disappeared. And at 4:00 I got an email about a bunch of Best Western properties wanting to be added to my website’s hotel guide.
Typical start-up day, right?
The vanishing content didn’t shake me as much as you might expect. I know enough about page design software and publishing platforms to understand that sooner or later I would screw something up. I’ve been putting the website through its paces for the past two weeks, hoping that if I did do something bad I would do it while my designer and programmer were still around to undo it. By 3:30 they spotted my mistake (I switched the page to the wrong “mode,” and turned it back.
The partner thing was a huge disappointment, even if it was one I had been anticipating. The woman I’d been talking to was hoping to split her time between an existing job and FamiliesGo! until we had revenue flowing. I appreciate that whoever works with me will most likely have to do something else for money for a while (as I do), so I was okay with that.
We’d met at the end of June and agreed to each work on part of the business plan. Then I didn’t hear from her for three weeks except for one brief email to apologize for being out of touch. She wrote yesterday to say the job/start-up/family balance was proving tougher than she expected and she didn’t want to hold me back, so she was graciously bowing out. I’d been afraid that would happen since we first met. But we hit it off personally and had compatible views about where FamiliesGo! could go. At the same time, she brought a lot of ideas to the table that I never would have thought of. So I hoped she would turn out to be one of those people who have astounding reserves of energy and we’d move forward together.
I’m tempted to try to find a way to keep her in the loop in a more limited way so I can tap her great mind, but I know that might just lead to her feeling put upon and me feeling frustrated she isn’t delivering. This is disappointing because I thought she would be a great addition to FamiliesGo! Also, it means I need to think once again about whether I want a partner at this stage and what role I would want that partner to play. And if indeed I do want a cofounder, I have to start looking again.
The scrambled hotel listings section was frustrating because my hotel guide—all the details families need to know about hotels in one convenient listing—is the heart of FamiliesGo! It was the jumping off point for starting the site. It’s the thing that differentiates FamiliesGo! in the market and will add real value for our users. It’s the part that has to be consistent and well organized and easy to use. It’s the one part of the site that has to be perfect and of course it’s the one we’ve struggled with the most. Still seeing what looks like draft copy in place hours before we want to lift the password off the site is angst-inducing. A 45-minute phone call with my web designer seemed to put us on the right track though.
Just when I was about to write the day off as a bad one, I got an email from a woman I’ve been talking to who does publicity for Best Western. Given that hotels and restaurants have been disappointed with TripAdvisor and similar sites, I wasn’t sure hotels would welcome the FamiliesGo! hotel guide, which makes it easy for parents to tell at a glance how family friendly—or not—a hotel is. Initially, I called her to find out what she thought, and she asked me to send our listings form over to her so she could share it with member hotel owners and gauge their reaction, too. In her email, she was following up to say that within a day, she’d gotten 20 completed forms back. One hotel owner tracked me down to ask how he could list other properties he owns.
This is promising. The more hotels that list the more reason parents have to visit the site and the more time they’ll spend on it and contribute to it. It’s the kind of small good news that makes you want to see what happens next and transforms the day’s setbacks from out-and-out problems to mere details to deal with.
EILEEN P. GUNN is the founder of FamiliesGo!, a travel website for busy parents planning family vacations. She is also an independent journalist and author whose work has been published widely. In her Inc.com blog Start Me Up, Gunn shares the whys and hows of building a business as she does it. @familiesgo