If this is your first time reading, I recommend you start with my 6-month challenge and table of contents of weekly posts for the past 12 weeks.
tl;dr Still working on MVP v3 and iterations based on user feedback. I chatted with two people from Rock Health, scrambled to get my first issue of 3 curate dish recommendations out the door and reflect on my nervousness about the private beta.
Not much to say here, just need to put my head down and crank out work. What the tl;dr says.
I. Rock Health office hours and chats
II. 3 curated dish recommendations service
III. Nervousness about private beta
IV. Next week and key lessons learned
3. It’s an Emotional Roller-coaster
This was another one lots of people were surprised about. The ups and downs were more extreme than they were prepared for.
In a startup, things seem great one moment and hopeless the next. And by next, I mean a couple hours later.
The emotional ups and downs were the biggest surprise for me. One day, we’d think of ourselves as the next Google and dream of buying islands; the next, we’d be pondering how to let our loved ones know of our utter failure; and on and on.
The hard part, obviously, is the lows. For a lot of founders that was the big surprise:
How hard it is to keep everyone motivated during rough days or weeks, i.e. how low the lows can be.
After a while, if you don’t have significant success to cheer you up, it wears you out:
Your most basic advice to founders is “just don’t die,” but the energy to keep a company going in lieu of unburdening success isn’t free; it is siphoned from the founders themselves.
There’s a limit to how much you can take. If you get to the point where you can’t keep working anymore, it’s not the end of the world. Plenty of famous founders have had some failures along the way.
– Paul Graham, What Startups Are Really Like
I. ROCK HEALTH OFFICE HOURS AND CHATS
Rock Health office hours
I went to Rock Health‘s office hours earlier this week and presented my pitch deck to the advisor there. It was a slightly modified pitch deck from the one I showed Greylock Partners back in August (week #4 when I did pitch practice with them), tailored to slides that Rock Health specifically wanted to see as delineated in their application.
It was a great conversation and opened my eyes to how much I have to learn in terms of selling myself and Cusoy. Both conceptually and stylistically (formatting and presentation tips — any management consultants out there will know what I’m talking about!). Not that I don’t have good material to work with – I do – it’s just a matter of framing myself and Cusoy in the most compelling, persuasive way.
I got lots of great insights and feedback and will make edits this week; next week I’ll go back to do a follow-up pitch deck review with him. He was pretty upbeat and enthusiastic about my pitch deck potential (all things and my circumstances considered) so I was really happy too, even though he isn’t part of the application committee and doesn’t have any visibility into their decisions.
Sometimes I have a hard time motivating myself to sell things because to me, I feel like if something is good, its inherent qualities will (and should) sell itself. Much like how engineers often think if they build a good product, the customers will come, right? Wrong. It’s not just about building a great product, but also all about marketing.
I mean, take Evernote, for example — it’s a beautifully designed product, yet many first-time users are at a loss in terms of what they can do with it and its capabilities and use cases. This is where a great onboarding experience and tutorials may be needed, to sell Evernote’s usefulness and expansive features to the user who may have absolutely no clue about them otherwise.
I learned about this the hard way during my first hackathon, too.
The best marketed product will beat the best engineered product, every time. If you build a great product but can’t market yourself or sell your product well to others, no one will give you funding or use your product. It’s not enough that you have a great case for yourself and a stellar product, it’s up to you to make that case to others. No one knows your product as best as yourself, so it’s your job to tell your users how great it is and how it will make their lives easier.
It’s all about telling a persuasive story.
Shouldn’t come to a surprise to me, since I’ve been selling and pitching myself for the past 5 years now — from applying to colleges to internships, meetings, interviews, my first job — but I suppose it’s because I still am having some mental hangups of my own that are hindering me from convincing myself before then convincing investors. See Paul Graham’s essay on how to convince investors.
I’ll talk more about my nervousness in a bit.
Meeting with a cofounder of Rock Health
Last week I also met with one of the cofounders of Rock Health — who I actually met in-person twice last year when I made two networking trips to San Francisco to talk with product managers and get career advice.
Funny how I actually came full circle from our first interaction — from trying to get into product management to landing a great product management internship in Austin, and then asking him for tips to break into product management in the SF Bay Area and having accomplished that by landing an associate product manager role at Evernote. And now… trying to do my own startup.
Wow. A lot can happen in a year! 🙂
Anyways, he was really enthusiastic about my idea and also offered some interesting tactics and strategies for me to look into regarding user acquisition and growth, as well as some tips to applying to Rock Health. He unfortunately doesn’t have any involvement or sway into the application committee, but it was awesome just to catch up with him, demo my MVP and pick his brain about things I should do next.
It’s always great to have some external positive validation, so these were high points for me last week.
II. 3 CURATED DISH RECOMMENDATIONS SERVICE
So, remember my week #9 post about designing the (im)perfect email experiment MVP? Well, the service of 3 curated dishes came out on top and I spent several hours on that — I was supposed to start that service on October 1, but told users I was pushing that back to start on October 14 since I was really trying to get the MVP shipped out by then and didn’t want any distractions.
Well, the MVP still hasn’t been shipped yet (/facepalm), but I wasn’t going to push the 3 curated dishes service out even further and give users the impression that I make promises that I couldn’t keep. So I had to get that done ASAP.
Actually, this was interesting and kind of a huge relief because I had originally asked Fancy Hands several weeks ago to help me find restaurants that would be tailored to users (e.g., one user has 5+ food allergies alone) that I didn’t want to manually find myself. I then was somewhat despondent that I had put this off till Friday last week and had even mapped out restaurants for me to drive to in Palo Alto, San Francisco and even Berkeley to order meals and then take pictures of them. Four users requested this service, and I had promised a curated weekly newsletter of three dish recommendations per user, based on each user’s individual dietary needs and cuisine type preferences.
Yeah, extremely inefficient and not to mention a huge sunk cost to my wallet of buying food that I probably won’t eat, driving to these places and using up expensive gas — all for the sake of taking pictures of meals that users may not even want to eat (but fits their dietary profile and taste preferences). I had seriously considered spending my entire weekend doing this… a really stupid way of following Paul Graham’s suggestion of doing things that don’t scale.
Thankfully, I was able to cobble together things together based on being resourceful 😉 and able to knock it all out within a matter of 3-4 hours myself over the course of two days. I felt really, really good about this, though in hindsight, it’s kind of a “duh” moment. Who in their rational mind would manually do this, considering the costs vs. benefits? No one.
And now, I have two more weeks to go to do this service. I’m not sure how useful it is for the users, since it’s all manually done now, but I’ll make sure to do a follow up questionnaire on how useful it was to them once it ends.
I somewhat regret doing this, since it is a major distraction from the actual MVP, but it was still very interesting as an indicator of user interest and something I may even consider doing a premium service, depending on how this trial period goes.
III. NERVOUSNESS ABOUT PRIVATE BETA
Nervousness that users actually won’t care or use it, even if they say they will or do
I’m not going to lie, I’m very nervous about releasing the private beta. For all the “hype” I’ve been building about it with my beta testers, showing them screenshots, doing in-person usability tests, are they actually going to use it? Are they just trying to be nice and say good things about it because they don’t want to hurt my feelings? Actions speak louder than words, and sometimes I’m just scared it will fall flat on its face once I release a private beta.
Like, great job! You shipped! Maybe 40% of your beta testers (of which I am very self-conscious it’s a small number too, not even in the hundreds) actually sign up, and then half of them come back in a week, and then maybe a quarter over the next month.
…I can almost hear the crickets chirping now.
Let’s not even get into discussions on potential business models and everyone constantly asking me how I am going to make money.
I’m just worried about people even wanting to use Cusoy.
After all that time and effort, the culmination of three months, I’m just really scared it will be all for naught. I am pretty tolerant of risk, considering I’m trying to get a startup off the ground out of my own volition, but everything I do is a calculated risk (built upon other calculated risks I’ve made in my life), and not a “stupid” risk, so to speak. Entrepreneurs are actually more risk-averse than you think. A little counterintuitive, right? Even so, I hate to spend so much time and energy if it’s all for nothing.
I’m afraid Cusoy will be “rejected” (aka little to no users to show for it) — the rational side of me knows that these psychological fears are something every entrepreneur goes through, and yes I’ve even mentioned myself the first build will suck, no one expects things to take off like a rocket or go super perfectly or smoothly. Especially given my circumstances of being non-technical, single founder. And this is, all in all, a terrific learning experience that I won’t get anywhere else.
I guess the hardest part of this, of what I’m trying to articulate, is that it seems like I hold a lot of my self-worth in the success of Cusoy. So if it flops and people don’t like it, my mind will take that personally as a reflection of people rejecting me as a person when they reject Cusoy. It’s not true, I know. But the irrational side of me can’t help but be extremely wary and apprehensive of that.
Sometimes I feel like maybe I’m being whiny and don’t have the “right” to complain about this, that I haven’t been really pushed to the brink of my limits — facing bankruptcy, having a cofounder leave me, not being able to raise money, laying off employees, all the hardships and drama that startups go through — that I haven’t even experienced anything yet to merit my worries.
Ben Horowitz’s The Struggle is a great piece to read to reflect on how hard it is to be an entrepreneur.
I haven’t experienced even… a hundredth of what is mentioned there, but it still seems like I’m constantly stressed out and doubtful of myself. It never ceases to amaze me that users actually want to talk to me and are happy to set aside their time to chat via email or phone or even meet with me in person. I’ve always been in awe that I would be able to do anything that had a positive impact on someone else’s life.
Everyone goes through their individual journeys and hardships; it’s all subjective and relative. I know I shouldn’t compare myself to others. And I’m repeating myself and my advice to others from previous posts. But still… it’s a lot easier said than done. It’s hard to constantly keep a positive attitude and stay rational, when your irrational side goes haywire sometimes.
Nervousness that I will mess things up
I’m also nervous that I will mess things up — not having analytics set up correctly, not having an email drip campaign ready to go, not having content marketing already set up, etc. Not measuring the right metrics. What’s necessary and what’s not?
Am I doing things right? Am I following the “textbook”? Is this the proper process? What are the right steps, anyways? Am I wasting my time and spinning my wheels? Do people have higher expectations of me considering my background?
The rational side of my mind says, there’s no “right” way of doing things. You are learning as you go. You’re doing great, you’ll be fine. Just keep going. Don’t succumb to paralysis by analysis.
Everyone’s advice, like I mentioned before, only comes from what worked for that person. It’s up to you to write your own textbook of what works and doesn’t work for you.
Again, all the uncertainty and ambiguity I mentioned in the past. It’s frightening and overwhelming. It doesn’t get any easier; I actually think it gets harder.
I think a part of this is also in the impostor syndrome effect:
Impostor syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence.
It is basically feeling that you are not really a successful, competent, and smart student, that you are only imposing as such.
Some common feelings and thoughts that might characterize the impostor syndrome are: “I feel like a fake” “My classmates/professors etc. are going to find out I don’t really belong here,” “Admissions made a mistake,” etc.
– Caltech Counseling Center, The Impostor Syndrome
I’ve felt this way from my very first day at Rice University and all my internships to first job at Evernote. I don’t know if it says more about myself or women in tech, but it’s something I’m very aware of about myself.
A lot of times I feel like I have absolutely no freaking clue what I’m doing, seriously, honest to goodness, no freaking idea and feel like a complete fraud when people come to me and ask for advice. Like, who am I that you should listen to me? Anyways.
I’m constantly learning, and even if I’m afraid of failing, am just trying to keep moving forward.
I have a very independent streak and self-awareness that I sometimes go out of my way to march to the beat of my own drum, and try to do things completely on my own. I also have to remind myself at times that I have a lot of friends out there who are more than willing to help me and support me through this (not to mention my parents who are “tolerant” of my “little project” 🙂 haha), and I am very grateful for that.
IV. NEXT WEEK AND KEY LESSONS LEARNED
Trying to get everything ready to ship my MVP next week. Fingers crossed. I don’t want to say any specific dates so I don’t make any promises I can’t keep. But I am very focused and am feeling the urgency now.
I know I mentioned in my Monthly Review #3 that I now avoid all networking events, but I’m going to note two exceptions — Startup School is this coming this weekend and the Health Tech Conference at the end of this month (where I’m volunteering to bypass paying for a $850 ticket). I’ll post more about my takeaways after each event.
Also, one more thing: I really love this website on living consciously — it also helps to create a sense of urgency, meaning and purpose in doing this startup: according to their algorithm, I have 620 months to live my dreams and 80 months before I turn 30. Yikes.
“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
– Steve Jobs
Key lessons learned:
- Learn how to sell yourself and by extension, your product. Marketing is critical.
- Be relentlessly resourceful. Constantly look to things to streamline processes so you don’t have to manually do things that don’t scale in a stupidly expensive way, like my original intent and plan for implementing the 3 curated dish recommendations service.
- It’s OK to be nervous before launching. Talk about it to others and get it out of your system — and for me, writing it in blog posts helps a lot as well — but then forge ahead and keep moving forwards. Don’t stop. Everyone goes through this.
P.S. I’d love to meet you on Twitter here.
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