The dream forms over time

Written on 27th January, 2015
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In my recent travels around Asia, I’ve had the great opportunity to meet a lot of local founders and aspiring entrepreneurs.

One of the things that seems to come up many times is that people will ask me “what triggered you to become passionate about company culture and transparency” or “how did you know you wanted to build Buffer to what it is today”. One of the most memorable moments for me was when a super smart lady who is having a lot of success at a large company, who longs to work on something more meaningful, told me about her friend. She said to me:

“My friend has her own fashion startup and is doing well. She is so passionate about what she is doing. I want to do a company in fashion too, but I don’t feel like I have the same level of passion as my friend. What should I do?”

I think there is a lot of advice out there that says “you must be super excited about what you’re working on, otherwise you won’t stick with it”. I think there is a lot of truth in that.

At the same time, if I look back on my own journey, I don’t think that’s how it worked. It would be easy (and incorrect) for me to say that I always imagined creating a company with full transparency and no managers from day 1. Or for me to say that I had a vision to build a SaaS startup that helps companies solve all their social media struggles and reach 30,000 customers and $5m in annual revenue.

The thing is, 4 years ago when I started the company, I didn’t even start a company. I just had a side project. I had to work full-time for clients to pay the bills. It was almost incomprehensible that I could dream about those things, I had much more immediate needs.

But I did have a little dream. My goal in the earliest days was simply to build something that truly solved a problem for people and make money online with a product. My earnings had always been tied to my time, doing contract and freelance work. I was passionate about moving from that to creating a product which someone would pay for.

Back when I started, having someone pay $5 for my product was as big as the dream got. It didn’t involve having a team, creating a movement around transparency, raising funding or building a unique workplace.

What happened was that once I achieved that first dream, my horizon became much clearer. It’s like the fog lifted and I could see ahead and the next dream came into my head. After the first customer paid $5 for Buffer (in the first month we had total revenue of $20), my next goal was to make $1,000 per month so that I could drop my freelance work and focus completely on Buffer. This was the dream I pursued for the next few months.

The dream forms over time. It’s okay if you don’t have a world-changing vision from the beginning. The key, in my mind, is to follow that tiny dream. That little spark, the idea in the very back of your mind. Once you pursue that, you are on the path to your most meaningful and fulfilling work.

Photo credit: Aristocrats-hat