This week marks 10 years since my co-founders, Asif Rahman and Iraj Islam, and I started NewsCred. It’s been an incredible ride and the most humbling and rewarding journey of my life. I wanted to share some thoughts as we celebrate this milestone.
We’ve spent the majority of our adult lives building NewsCred.
I’m 36 years old and have spent more than half of my adult life working on NewsCred. So much has happened in the last 10 years. We grew from a company of three to nearly 200 people with seven global offices. We move our headquarters (and ourselves) to New York. On the personal front, all three of us co-founders got married. I had two adorable kids.
It’s humbling to look back with this perspective, because it’s made me realize how much of your life you have to devote in order to create something great. And it’s not just the number of years – building a company requires so many other sacrifices (not to mention the investment and support of others outside the company). But for anyone thinking about making the leap, it’s worth it.
Your co-workers can become friends for life.
I was at a birthday celebration for a former employee this weekend. He founded his own company and it’s gratifying to see our former employees becoming successful entrepreneurs on their own. But what struck me was that 90 percent of the people there were current or former NewsCredders. Some might say that’s too intense. (“Don’t do business with friends” is common advice.) Well, I’m proud to say we’re different. I’ve said before, semi-facetiously, “We only do business with friends!” Given the sheer amount of time we spend together, we value getting to know each other and enjoying each other’s company and camaraderie. It’s what got us through the tough times. We loved coming to work and spending time with each other. My co-founder even said he would be working on NewsCred even if he weren’t getting paid.
Investors are more than money.
Investors always say that they bring more to the table than just money. I don’t believe that’s typically the truth in our industry. Most of my friends who are CEOs admit that there isn’t much value-add beyond the check, once it’s cashed. Our situation couldn’t be more different. Our investors are friends, mentors, and in the trenches with us. Our kids go to school together. I texted them from the hospital when my first daughter was born. They’ve taught me more about business and life than I could have hoped when we decided to build a venture-backed business. “Tough times don’t last forever. Tough people do.” It’s one of my favorite quotes that our earliest investor told me during one of many dark periods!
Values are everything.
We haven’t always been good at formalizing, documenting, and communicating our values. But we have been good at living them. People intrinsically knew and understood our values. But we recently went through a company-wide exercise to update our values – and it’s been one of our best decisions. Of course, written or not, values only matter if they serve as a company’s decision-making compass. I think we’ve done a pretty good job here and we’re continuing to improve. If you’re building a one-story house, you can get away with a weak foundation. But to build a skyscraper, values create the deep foundation you need to weather generations (and storms).
Category creation is hard.
Looking back, our first few years of business were grim. It took us nearly five years to get to $1 million in annual recurring revenue! I don’t think most founders, employees, or investors would have stuck around. But ours all did. (Okay, some investors stopped calling for a while.)
The only reason a startup fails is when founders decide to shut it down. And I appreciate the many reasons why they need to do so. We just decided we were never going to do that. It may be stupid or stubborn or irrational, but it’s why we are here today. We’re a mid-eight figures business, but we certainly paid our dues. Building a product is hard. Building a company is hard. But building a category is even harder. So combining those three things, it’s a minor miracle we figured it out. When we founded NewsCred, no one was talking about “content marketing.” I believe we may be the first tech company in our category. There are roughly 3 billion in the LUMAscape today! The growth journey and growing pains apply to everyone in our category: us, competitors, analysts, and even our customers. We’re all learning together.
Admittedly, we still have a ways to go before we can declare victory, but we’re on a good path. A long, windy, unpredictable, but nonetheless good path. This is why one of our values is “grit.”
Good things happen to optimists.
Good things will always happen if you are optimistic about the long term. As mentioned above, you need to stay in the game and have enough at-bats to give yourself a chance. One of my life philosophies is irrational optimism. But blind optimism can lead to misguided expectations. So we love the message told in the Stocksdale Paradox. It’s a short read, so I’d encourage you to do so. But essentially, we are realistic about the hardships we face and the tough odds in the short term. But we are steadfastly optimistic about our chances to build an enduring company of real consequence in the long term.
So what next? I’m preparing for the next 10 years. I’m looking to hire people who want to join for the next decade. We are signing up customers who believe in content marketing and us – folks who can see themselves making a 10-plus year investment in content marketing. We’re building a company that will endure for multiple decades. And finally, I’d like to acknowledge the unwavering support and incredible love from my wife and family and friends who are willing to let me do what I love so much.
Working for our incredible team has been the greatest privilege of my life. Humbled to work for them for the next 10 years. Let’s go!
Shafqat Islam is NewsCred’s CEO and Co-founder.