I saw a chart of Scribd’s website traffic the other day.

Ouch. Scribd has been a hot company. Looks like a rough six months.

I was talking with someone about a recent setback in their business. The loss of confidence was all too familiar.

My startup career over the last 15 years has had its own setbacks. I can definitively count more losses than wins.

There was the mobile database administration tool, TinyDBA, I was creating. It was supposed to be my first real business. I even spent the money creating a Limited Liability Company for it. Of course I needed the limited liability to protect myself from potential lawsuits. LOL. I never shipped anything. No one ever saw it. No one ever used it.

Things weren’t that much better in my next venture. I joined a friend to build an eBay-like auction site for industrial equipment. Spent months building out an entire platform for this thing.

Same result. Nothing shipped. No customers. It never ran a single auction.

Moving on, I tried my hand at affiliate sales, where I got a commission selling other people’s products online. I had an ecommerce store auto-generated for me (and hundreds of other people) to sell popular software titles like McAfee Antivirus. I think I made $100 in commissions. At least that was positive. :) Until you calculate how much I spent fooling with Google Ads.

I eventually had a decent win creating a company that’s still profitable and growing today, Inkling.

But I tried to do it again. Start something new. I even got to show it off to Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher. That sounds like fun. How’d that go? Terrible. It was impossible to get repeat customers. No one wanted to invest. I had to shut it down. Just to grope in the dark for more ideas. It felt awful. I felt like a loser.

About that graph of Scribd. I just showed you 6 months of traffic. But if you zoom out:

You see a very different trend. A startup doing something very incredible.

When I got out of college I knew nothing about software development. My entire college education prepared me to be a Chemical Engineer, but now I wanted to start a software company.

So every night and weekend, for years, I just kept at it, training myself to develop software.

TinyDBA didn’t ship, but it helped train my software development skills to find more work and opportunities to get even better. It was a stepping stone to the next attempt. Like the auction website. Another project that didn’t ship, but that website helped me get even better at making web based software. The affiliate ecommerce store where I lost money? It taught me a ton about Google Ads and search engine optimization. The bomb in front of Ashton? Taught me a lot about what type of business I had to run next.

As I look back across the whole gamut of losses, they all had ridiculously important lessons I eventually turned into wins I’ve had with Inkling and now Draft. And I’m sure I’m not done losing. I’ll step off a cliff again into something that feels awful.

Scribd’s graph looks like a lot of our lives. If you zoom in, you’ll see a setback or find a rough downward trend. It feels terrible, in the moment. It feels like everything has always been this way. But if you zoom out, you’ll actually notice how far we’ve come. And how previous setbacks were merely important steps to get you further than you were so long ago.

P.S. I’d love to meet you on Twitter: here.

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