Something I have just loved about being in the venture capital business is the people I’ve met, running businesses I did not fund. And of those there are a few I found so relevant to my own interests, and with founders who had such passion and integrity, that I continued to meet with them well after saying “no.” Trying to be a productive sounding board, making introductions, passing along knowledge or experience where it seemed helpful.
It’s always been such a pleasure to get the updates from these CEOs, they arrive when you least expect them and it’s exciting to see how things are developing, where the connection is no longer the possibility of financing, but a genuine interest in the business and a relationship with the CEO/team.
Dustin Hubbard of Paperspine is one of these. His company offered a subscription service for books. Physical books. He had the idea for his company after finishing a book, and having no room for it in his already jammed bedside table. So, he planned and planned, left his job at Microsoft, started and ran Paperspine out of his garage.
Paperspine worked really well, and solved problems that people cared about. It probably saved my family hundreds of dollars, just with my 16 year-old daughter, a voracious reader, and who routinely dropped tens of dollars at bookstores, only to read the books once. She loved Paperspine. She was on a five book out at once subscription at one point, and it enabled more massive reading without bankrupting her.
And while Dustin had gotten Paperspine off the ground with funding from friends and family, he couldn’t raise his next round of financing – in a market where raising money is almost impossible anyway. But he applied himself to solving this problem with every ethical means imaginable. Cut costs to get to break even, went back to work at Microsoft, tried to expand into ebook rentals.
Dustin and I spoke every 45-60 days, where he would walk me through his latest set of challenges, his ideas to address them, and we’d then spend the next hour testing his assumptions, plans, and brainstorm solutions. But he always arrived prepared and ready to dive into a meaningful discussion, and sometimes I could help, other times I think he just valued the opportunity to have someone outside the company to run his thinking by.
But for many reasons, some within in his control, many outside it, he was unable to get his next round of financing. And he seemed to be reaching the limit of how much this business was encroaching on his life, quality of life, and family.
So, last night I was truly saddened but not necessarily surprised to receive an email from Dustin, saying that he was closing the doors. I can only imagine how hard this was for him, how heartbreaking.
And he closed off his dreams for Paperspine with the kind of grace and thoughtfulness that we should all take note of, and admire. You should read his final blog entry, a real fitting testimonial to a worthy business, and an incredibly decent founder. And you can see pictures of his “warehouse” in his garage, and learn more about how he took his idea and brought it to life.
His wife framed this so well, reminding him that “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
That phrase captures the essence of what it means to take an idea that crossed your mind, and have the courage to start a company to bring that idea to life. And you bring it to life focused on why it will and should succeed, while also keeping, in a separate place, the knowledge that there are many reasons why it could fail.
Dustin, you should be very proud of what you accomplished and learned these past two years, but you should also be very proud of how you ran your company, and how you finished. Well done, not painless, but well done, indeed.