Gimlet Turns Five
For years, I’ve been a huge fan of Pinboard. Like Gimlet, Pinboard has stayed simple, rather than adding every feature in the book. Like Gimlet, Pinboard has stayed small and profitable without chasing venture capital or seeking to be acquired for heaps of money. Like Gimlet, Pinboard is responsible for sobering amounts of people’s treasured data — a stable, durable island in the quicksand of internet businesses. And as I found out recently, like Gimlet, Pinboard recently turned five years old. The owner’s post is one of the best posts I’ve read on running an internet business. Seriously, read it. I’ll wait.
Still here? Well, in that vein: Here’s what the last five years have been like for me.
The biggest surprise in running a software startup has been the amount of non-code stuff I’ve done. Don’t get me wrong; I write a bunch of code, but when first dreaming about Gimlet, I imagined my time spent polishing a shining, flawless beacon of programming. Not so. Mostly, this is because Gimlet works and we don’t want to change things just for the sake of changing them. Partly, it’s because there’s a lot more pressing stuff that needs to get done: questions to answer, vendor forms to fill out (hoo boy do I hate vendor forms), books to balance, servers to update, the occasional retrospective blog post to write. And partly, it’s because our day jobs (yes, we have day jobs with health insurance and everything) still command a substantial slice of our attention.
(Also partly, it’s because Eric and I each had kids in the past few years. It turns out that kids are a crazy huge amount of work. But more on them in another post.)
Growth-wise, our clients are recording somewhere in the neighborhood of 22,000 questions on an average day. In some ways, that doesn’t seem like a huge number (it’s not even one per second!), but it means we’re on pace to add about six to seven million questions a year to the database, which isn’t nothing. We’ll cross the 10,000,000 mark sometime in the next month or so. It feels like just a few months ago that we were inching up on the 1,000,000 mark, and a few months before that we hit 100,000. For our library clients (which is basically all of you), it turns out that reference is by no means dead. Honestly, it isn’t even looking sick.
In another vague parallel to Pinboard, we’ve found that people will indeed pay for a good service, and that getting enough revenue to keep a business going is quite possible, as long as we don’t have illusions about gold-plated Ferraris or anything. Pricing is still something of a dark art for us (as is the case for most businesses like ours), but we’re pretty happy with our new pricing plan.
To avoid making promises we may not keep, I’m not going to talk about future feature plans. One recurring discovery for me has been that ideas that look good in my head and on paper are often terrible when I see them on the screen and get to click on them and try to explain them to people. Fortunately, there are enough ideas that seem good in our heads that some of them will hopefully look good on screen, too.
This has gotten rather long, so I’ll end with a final parallel to Pinboard’s post. We’re grateful — so grateful — to all of you who have joined us, stuck with us, and sent words of encouragement and feedback for the last five years. We’re both looking forward to serving Gimlet up to you for the next… five? Ten? Fifty? Well, many years.