How a fake TechCrunch headline attracted 20,000 paying customers

How a completely fake, made-up TechCrunch headline led us from 400 customers to 20,000 in under 2 years.


When we launched Bigcommerce in September 2009, we had no idea how the company would do. We wanted it to do well, but sometimes you can have the right product at the wrong time and you’re toast.

I remember very clearly the day we “launched” — which, back then, meant getting the web site live and crossing our fingers that our payment gateway wouldn’t choke when someone tried to sign up.

We were in our third office by that time — Level 9, 162 Goulburn St Surry Hills in Sydney, Australia. Eddie and I had locked ourselves in the meeting room (we only had one back then) for 2 weeks straight, 7 days a week doing whatever we could to make sure we would launch on time.

During those 2 weeks we created our affiliate program, integrated the affiliate software with our web site, designed our (terrible!) first logo, built the web site (HTML and PHP FTW!), wrote the web site copy, created all of the web site’s visual assets with Photoshop and put together a rough marketing plan.

When we finished our 2 week blitz and went live, I was sitting in my office one morning and had a feeling in my gut that Bigcommerce was going to be big. Really big. But it felt like we were so far from where I thought we could be — and I knew it would take years of hard work to get there.

At the time (October 2011, a few weeks after launch) we had about 400 customers. When I thought about my BHAG (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal), I decided it would be TEN THOUSAND (!!!!!!!) paying customers.

To me, that would be nirvana. A quick back-of-the-napkin scribble worked out that would be about $3.6M in ARR (Annual Recurring Revenue). Subtracting our costs of about $2M (there were only 12 of us at the time), that’d be a great, profitable business.

(This was before we’d raised any of our $125M, mind you)

Getting to 10,000 customers seemed a long way off when we only had 400 at the time. To help get me in the right mindset every day when I walked into my office, I decided to implement a simple visualization strategy that I’ve used before both in business (to build and sell previous companies) and also personally (to lose 31 pounds in 2008 and then gain 37 pounds of muscle in 2010).

I fired up Photoshop and printed off this page after about 10 minutes:

Our goal was 10,000 paying customers, so I decided to 2x that to 20,000 to push myself even harder. You know what they say — reach for the moon and you’ll land on the stars. Well 10,000 customers was my “star”.

Every morning when I walked into my office and every night when I left, this completely fake, made up headline was staring me in the face. I couldn’t avoid it and I’d read it at least 20 times a day.

So why did I make up a TechCrunch headline and post it on my wall? Was I crazy or was there a reason? Let me talk a bit about the power of visualization and how it can help us as entrepreneurs.

It All Starts In Your Head

I’ve always been a big believer in visualizing the things you want. Not chanting with incense and jumping up and down or anything like that, but legitimately spending time every week planning and just thinking about where you want to go and what it feels like to be there.

Present tense is really important when you visualize, primarily because your brain can’t tell if what you’re thinking about is the truth or not, so your subconscious mind goes to work trying to align the resources you have to make your vision your reality.

If this is the first time you’ve heard about visualization, you might want to re-read the last paragraph until it sinks in. Visualization is one of the most under-rated skills of being an entrepreneur.

I knew that in order to grow Bigcommerce, we needed to think big. Much, much bigger than what the company was at the time (12 people, completely bootstrapped up until that point). Uncomfortably big. So big that it made me feel queazy and nervous.

At that particular point in time, October 2011, it was 20,000 paying customers. That was the number that made me uncomfortable, so that’s what I decided to 1) visualize and think about every morning and 2) plaster on my office door so I was forced to think about it, even when I had other stuff to do.

Seeing that number every day made me start to expand my context and the belief I had in not just us as founders, but our product, our vision and our team.

Instead of making decisions in today’s context, I would make them in the context of having 20,000 customers. A small but important detail.

  • I started to read more about building high-performance organizations and wondered if we could hire leaders from companies I admired, like Google and Salesforce.
  • I wondered if we could one day power billions of dollars in online orders, instead of a few million dollars (which is what we were doing at the time).
  • I thought about what our business might need to look like with 20,000 business owners all depending on us for their livelihood — not to mention the hundreds of employees we’d have by then.
  • How could my decisions today make sure we’d never miss a pay run when the company was 50x bigger?

Training myself to think bigger was one of the best things I ever did, because it put current tactical problems into context when compared to the strategic decisions we needed to make to grow the company to 20,000 paying customers and beyond.

Never underestimate the control you have over what you feed your subconscious mind. Feed it good stuff and you’ll get good stuff. Feel it bad stuff like negative thoughts, fear and self-doubt and those things will eventually manifest in your life (rubbish in, rubbish out).

I know this all sounds like “airy fairy” hippy stuff, but visualization and what you say to yourself when no one is around has a huge impact on where you end up 2, 5 or 10 years from now.

Did Visualization Work?

So that’s my story. That’s why I made up a TechCrunch headline. That’s why I stuck it on my office door. And that’s why I forced myself to look at it dozens of times every day.

Did it work? I think so:

Today Bigcommerce has well over 100,000 paying customers, but back in October 2011, 20,000 sure did seem like a big number.

While I’m no longer operational at the company I co-founded (I’m about to launch the first product from my new startup studio, Capital H Labs), I really believe that without visualization and thinking big in the early days, the company would be a fraction of the size it is today.

More posts from Mitchell Harper:


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Published in #SWLH (Startups, Wanderlust, and Life Hacking)