When a Boise, Idaho based entrepreneur builds a company and then sells it to Intuit for $340m, you know the story is going to be good. So I reached out to founder Matt Rissell, of TSheets to get his perspective on how to build a SaaS start-up and what he learned along the way.

His journey probably sounds very familiar. He saw a need, knew he could solve it, thought it would be a slam dunk.  Then reality hit him in the face.

In addition to the time spent and money wasted, he had three failed product launches. This was due to untrustworthy partners, horrible advice, and not understanding the market. It wasn't an easy road. When the product launches failed and the money dried up, Rissell and his team had to move the business into "free space" since rent couldn't be paid anymore.

His turning point actually came after reading a book.

Rissell read The Lean Start-Up by Eric Ries.

Immediately Rissell and his team put into practice what they learned.

As a software company that serves businesses who need to keep track of the time employees spend working, they began to test everything. They built out infrastructure to test in the easiest and fastest way possible.

Then they started to use data. They stopped relying on their guts to make decisions, but rather to base all decisions off of data. The data-driven decision will usually win.

They focused on making many, many tiny bets rather than big, single bets. Those little bets that paid off were then magnified and those became the big bets. Just find what works on a small scale and do more of that became the motto.

Doing these things turned the business around. With the new success they created, they raised capital, hired a team of 260 people, doubled in size for 4 straight years, and were able to create a business that Intuit needed.  

Along the way, Rissell learned many lessons, here are 3 of them:

1. Don't let others tell you when to stop.

One of the most important things that Rissell learned was that "No one can tell you when to quit. That is your decision and yours alone. I wonder how much innovation we are missing the world because people were told to quit." As an entrepreneur many people will try to tell you how to run your business, to tell you what you need to do and when. The problem is, you are the one running your business. Rissell learned that when the world is caving in, there are not too many people that will stand by you. That is why those important decisions are up to you in the end.

2. You have to do so much, just get to work and do it.

Rissell also learned that starting a business is not easy and takes a wide variety of skills. Entrepreneurs need to be able to do everything. As an entrepreneur, your job is to sell, to build, to plan, and most of all to create. Of course, you can delegate, and you need to build a solid team, yet the final results are in your hands. In the beginning, if you don't wear all the hats, no one else will. Just work hard, play hard, and be flexible. 

3. The key to success doesn't exist.

Rissell said people often ask him: "What is the key to success?" He says there isn't one. There is no magic key. Rissell said: "Where you are sitting and the people you are surrounded with is all because of all the millions of decisions you have made and continue to make on a daily basis." So the best thing you can do is to "Find a process for making better decisions, find a way to make good disciplined tiny decisions on a daily basis." Those tiny decisions lead to big decisions. Those decisions determine your reality, your life, and your success. It is not a simple key that will unlock success, but rather a process that you follow to create your success.

Starting a business is hard. Starting a successful business is even harder. When you are flexible and can adjust your approach you are on your way to building something worthwhile. When you begin to trust yourself, work hard, and make lots of good little decisions over and over again, you will create something great. 

Published on: Dec 22, 2017