5 Things That Led My Startup To Great Success In Its First Year

This is how my startup made $0.85 in just its first 12 months

by Stephen Stewart


When I founded my startup in January 2014, all of my friends and family said I was crazy. I had moments of doubt myself. When you’re climbing on a limb alone, you’re bound to have second thoughts. After all, I’d quit my job in pursuit of this dream. But I was confident in myself.

“You don’t have an idea for a startup,” everyone in my life said. That was true. I didn’t have an idea. I had no idea what my startup would be. I had, however, written the lyrics to a Nickelback song on a napkin, and I’d heard of startups starting when their founders wrote an ingenious idea on a napkin. So, I thought I was well on my way to something special.

“You have no idea how to run a business,” they all said to me. This was true too. I had never run a business or taken any sort of business class during my schooling. I had a ceramics degree from a community college.

But I had shopped in businesses before. I had walked around them with my wife. I bought things from businesses all the time. Starbucks is an incredibly successful business, and I bought coffee from the one near my house every day. Starbucks was successful. I shopped in a Starbucks. 1+1=2. I had already been involved with a successful business.

But this Starbucks success just made me even more motivated. I wanted to prove I wasn’t just a one hit wonder. I knew I had potential. I told my family and my friends and my wife this, but they still didn’t get it. “You’re quitting your job with no idea and no experience running your own business. You have to make money. Your wife doesn’t work. How do you expect to pay bills or buy food or pay for your mortgage?” they said.

“You’re so fucking stupid,” my wife screamed at me when she moved out permanently.

But boy did I prove them wrong.

In just its first year, my startup has made $0.85.

That’s 85 big ones for people in the biz.

I’ve learned so much this year. So, I wanted to share with you some of the things that have led me to my wild success. After all, the year before my startup existed, my startup was making no money. One year later, it’s making eighty-five cents. That’s an increase of infinity. And because of this success, I believe I have something to offer you.


1. Be Willing To Sacrifice

I lost my car, my dog, my house, my wallet, three pairs of shoes, 12 friends and 1 wife to this startup. But I never lost my drive to succeed. I realized early on that the road to success is paved with massive, life-altering, insanely painful sacrifices. Sacrifices that will give you a crippling anxiety disorder. Sacrifices that will cause your own mother to call you things that most people wouldn’t use to describe their worst enemies.

I can still see my wife crying and swearing at me as she left our house that last time with our dog under her arm. I would never see either of them again. She and I were high school sweethearts. We were of one soul. But she didn’t see my dream, so I had to sacrifice her for my startup.

And boy did it pay off one year, one download and $0.85 later.

Now my ex-wife wakes up to a phone call every morning. On the other end of the line is regret. I’m glad I’ll never get that call.

2. Come Up With Something That Doesn’t Exist In The World

I knew that my family and friends were right about one thing; I needed an idea. But not just any idea. To create a successful startup, you have to first create something that doesn’t yet exist in the world. Something that will make people wonder how they ever made it through their days without your amazing invention. Think of the cotton gin or the iPhone or the alcohol gin.

I knew that I had a starting point. I had the seed of an idea. But how did I turn those Nickelback lyrics on that napkin into something tangible. Something that the world could never again exist without.

And that’s when it hit me: I would create an app.

And that’s all I needed, that little push. That realization was like a father’s push at the back of a child on a swingset. I was about to soar higher than I could ever imagine. All the way to $0.85 from my business in just one year.

My app would allow people to order napkins embossed with lyrics from all the best Nickelback songs.

I did a quick Google search and found that this didn’t exist yet. Boom. Big win.

NickelbackNapkin LLC was born.

All the signs pointed to this being an awesome idea. I knew I was on the right track when I brought the idea to my parents and they said, “What the fuck is this shit? Are you kidding? Go get your old job back! Go get your wife back! Why are you ruining you life!”

I’m sure Steve Jobs got the same reaction when he presented the first Apple computer to his friends and family. I had something special.

3. Don’t Develop Diabetes

Shortly after I founded my startup, I began to have crippling headaches. I was thirsty all of the time, and I lost a tremendous amount of weight. I went to my doctor and found out I had diabetes. This definitely didn’t help in my pursuit of startup success.

Not only did I no longer have health insurance to help my pay for the insulin I desperately needed, but some of my best thinking came during day-long ice cream binges. I could no longer do that. And believe me, I tried. But almost died when I did.

I remember my family saying, “Go back to your old job. They’ll take you back. You’ll have health insurance. You’ll be making money. This doesn’t have to be an issue. Why are you so incredibly stupid? What did we do wrong? Dear God! Tell us! Why?” But no one told me founding my own startup would be easy. So I kept on going. But it was hard.

Finding success in my startup definitely would have been easier if I hadn’t developed diabetes, so I would recommend to you, not to develop diabetes.

4. Hustle

You have to be willing to do whatever it takes to make your business a success. And I mean whatever it takes. That means long hours, travel, bribery, kidnapping, arson. If you want to achieve your goals and find the kind of monstrous success that I did, you have to stop at nothing.

Be prepared to have a lot of late nights. I once worked 56 consecutive hours. Also, be prepared to develop a massive amphetamine dependence.

Watching TV? Forget it. Going to the movies? No more. Spending time with your wife. Never again.

Everytime you think about taking a break to hang out with your family, think of the guy who hasn’t seen his wife, or parents, or kids in months and has tripled the value of his business in that time.

Break off those relationships. Your startup is your family. It’s the only thing that cares about you. It’s the only thing that will caress you to sleep or kiss you on the forehead again.

I assume my family said, “Please talk to us again. We miss you. Why are you doing this? We love you. You need help.” But I didn’t listen to that voicemail because I don’t use the phone anymore because time spent on the phone is time spent away from my business.

Hustle means turning your back on all of your worldly possessions and giving yourself over to your startup. I did. That’s why I call myself, “Startup Buddha”.

5. Find Money In the Couch Cushions

You may be thinking this is some fancy-shmancy business metaphor. It’s not. I made almost 60% of my startups first year revenue just rummaging around in between the cushions on my couch.

And with that money, I could reinvest in my business. I wouldn’t have bought even the one pencil I had without the money I found digging deep into the space between the back cushion and the bottom of my couch.

So, heed this call: buy a voluptuously cushioned couch. You’ll thank me.


I hope you’ve gotten something valuable from reading this. No one’s had more success this last year than I have, and I wish you the same success(unless you’re in the embossed napkin game. Then I plan on crushing your face). Thank you for reading. Now, it’s back to work. NickelbackNapkin LLC isn’t going to run itself.