From the moment Dan Shipper (on the left, above) stepped foot on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus, he knew he wanted to learn how to build a real software business with paying customers and steady revenue. He passed with flying colors last month when he both graduated from school and sold his company Firefly (the first company backed by Dorm Room Fund) to Pegasystems for multiple millions.
Shipper’s success didn’t take anyone by surprise. Targeted early as a technology wunderkind, he was receiving multiple job offers by his sophomore year. He chose to stay in school, he says, because he wasn’t done learning. Now, having seen his first company through an exit, he has a degree and perspective on what makes a real difference for young companies and entrepreneurs.
In this exclusive First Round Review interview, Shipper shares the three tactics that moved the needle the most for him and Firefly, and how beginning founders can get a head start on success.
Give Yourself Enough Time to Fail (or Succeed)
In its first 10 months, Firefly brought in $11,000 in revenue — total. While Shipper and his co-founder Justin Meltzer (pictured above, right) were sure the company solved a concrete problem — allowing two people to collaboratively browse the same webpage without any special software — sales weren’t promising. It would have been a valid decision to throw in the towel at that point, he says.
“Because you have very limited information, it’s easy to grab onto the data you have and spin a story about it,” Shipper says. “Like when you have a conversation with someone who really loves your product, you walk away thinking about how this is going to be the biggest thing ever. On the flipside, you see negative information, and you hit the lowest low, wondering why you’re even trying. Even though events like that make you feel very strong emotions, in both cases, the actual prospects for your company haven’t changed very much.”