Land Ho: The Product/Vision Click

May 17, 2011

Even if you know the problem you’re solving, it’s possible that you don’t know exactly what you’re building. While common advice says to build your product and get to market, this advice glazes over a key step: getting out of your head. As you think through the detailed solution that your market demands, it’s discouraging to look at startups that have found their mojo. Their founders talk about their vision as if it takes no thought at all; their product and marketing are remarkably focused and harmonious.

For most startups, finding this harmony is a tremendous amount of work. Fortunately, there’s a recognizable moment when your vision and product click. Suddenly your whole startup falls into place. The vision leaves your head, and the product becomes its voice. With each deploy, you immediately know what to build next. Your marketing goes from wordy and disjointed to short and sweet. Users respond positively, some fanatically. It’s a beautiful moment, especially if it takes you months to get there.

At LazyMeter, getting from “we’re building a task manager that doesn’t suck” to “the cure for your overwhelming to-do list” didn’t happen overnight. It may seem like a small leap, but it’s brought laser-sharp focus to our product development. We’re still at the beginning and we definitely have our work cut out for us. But fortunately, when it clicks, the product takes on a life of its own, and the whole team knows exactly where it’s going. It’s as if you’ve been lost at sea, and finally spot land in the distance.


Facebook F8: A San Francisco Treat

April 27, 2010

Last week I traveled to San Francisco for the first time since co-founding LazyMeter.  It was difficult to justify a business trip, but I decided Facebook’s F8 would be a good networking opportunity.  I can now say with confidence that the trip was well worth the investment.

Highlights of my trip included:

  • Being in a room full of people who have succeeded doing what I’m trying to do.  While I’ve heard and read that it can be done, this was the first time I really got to see it firsthand.  I was shocked by how young and happy these hackers were.  I couldn’t help but compare the Facebook crowd to the Microsoft crowd.  At Microsoft there was an attitude that young employees need to slowly work their way up the ranks; at Facebook, the young employees are running the show – and very effectively.
  • I created connections with other entrepreneurs.  Overall, entrepreneurs I spoke to seemed much more enthusiastic about LazyMeter than the ones in Seattle.  They instantly understood what we were building, and gave me instant feedback on the solution they want to see.
  • I met Dave McClure.  He’s following me on twitter.  This alone was worth the trip.
  • Between the F8 conference and after-party, I ended up at a bar with the 10 or so top leaders of and investors in Facebook, including Mark Zuckerberg.  For the first time, I felt like I was a part of the startup community.  Seeming as I never received a tab, I think they bought me dinner too – so thanks Mark.
  • Seeing Luke Shepard, good friend and Facebook engineer, speak at the conference.  It’s amazing to see people find themselves, and seeing it first-hand only makes me more driven to succeed.  Special thanks to Luke for urging me to come, and for putting me up for the week.

Also last week, LazyMeter was mentioned in a blog post by Brad Feld.  With more and more attention on LazyMeter, I’m gaining confidence that we have the connections we’ll need to be successful.  We just need the product.  With more people watching us comes more pressure to deliver.  Fortunately, we are progressing quickly.

Do I feel the need to move to San Francisco?  Look for my answer in tomorrow’s post.


Game Mechanics

March 29, 2010

Gabe Zichermann wrote a good techcrunch article on the topic of game mechanics.  “What if everything we did was a little more fun?” he asks.  Features such as points, badges, and scoreboards have been growing in popularity.  Example: the badges on foursquare.  Zichermann coins the term Funware for game mechanics applied outside of games.

While I don’t know about the term funware, I do agree with Gabe that game mechanics will be applied more and more.  What impresses me about these features is the way it can motivate users.  It’s not about fun as much as calling on  the competitive human spirit to drive usage of a product.  It also shows us that users want credit for their contributions, and users want feedback on how they are doing.  It’s very pavlovian – users are more likely to return to a service that gives them a reward, even if that reward is virtual.

Task management is probably one of the least “fun” topics out there.  We think we can make it less painful by adding an element of game mechanics.  For those of you wondering about the name LazyMeter, this may start to give you more context.  We believes we can deliver an experience that feels more like a game; but unlike most games, it will actually be a productive use of your time.  Mission impossible?


LazyMeter on BillShrink.com

March 22, 2010

LazyMeter recently received its first coverage in a blog post on BillShrink.com. The post is titled “Using a 401k to Start a Business” and gives an overview of our decision to fund ourselves instead of seeking investors.

The decision to fund LazyMeter from our savings was driven by our commitment to put the product first, and money second. We wanted a funding strategy that enabled us to solve the task management problem as quickly and effectively as possible. Using our savings had many benefits compared to fundraising:

  1. Total creative freedom.
  2. Motivation to deliver quickly.
  3. Establishing an atmosphere of responsible spending.
  4. Owning 100% of an idea we really believe in.
  5. More time spent on building the right solution. Think of it this way: if a 2-person team requires $100,000 for a year and raising the money takes 3-6 months, you’re spending $12-25k raising that money. Add in legal fees, payroll taxes, and the loss of time that could have been spent building the product, and the money really does not go very far.

Despite the title of the article, we did not break into our 401k accounts. We are using personal savings that is more readily available, and a little less risky to our long-term retirement plans. Breaking into a 401k is not something we would do, unless maybe there is a 99% certainty that it will be replenished.

On a personal note, I made a decision to invest in myself. While it can be seen as a substantial amount of money to risk losing, I see it as a good deal for the experience and potential payoff. The fact is an MBA would cost more; an MBA has never interested me, and so I feel it is a better investment to have this time to learn, network, and return to code. I also just don’t feel comfortable taking someone else’s money yet. Unlike many entrepreneurs, I’d rather lose my own money than someone else’s.

We have a theory that we believe will solve the task management problem. Fortunately, we have enough personal resources available to test that theory. If our theory proves to be correct, then it will make sense to focus on growth and scaling through investors. If our theory proves to be incorrect, we will iterate or ‘fail fast’ and move on. But first thing’s first: we’re here to fix a problem. I look forward to testing our solution with you.


LazyMeter (My Startup) and Going Stealth

February 8, 2010

By now you are probably wondering what I’m working on. The product’s name is LazyMeter, and our goal is to help users balance the demands of life. We are a new approach to task management – a solution you will actually want to use.

Our landing page is up, which includes an option to sign up for our mailing list. If you join the list you will get updates on development, and you will be one of the first considered for testing. This list is strictly for providing updates and will not be used for any other purpose.

We have also launched our blog. The first post is our manifesto which provides more details on our vision.

You may notice we are being intentionally vague. Yes, I have read the TechCrunch article Stealth Startups, Get Over Yourselves. I understand that it’s important to be open about what you are building to generate interest for launch. At the same time, task management is one of the most saturated markets; if we’re too open, our competitors could quickly release the same feature to 2 million+ users.

Being a stealth startup is very awkward, especially in our space. When I attend the various Seattle startup events (hops & chops, open coffee), I get very strange looks since I can only say that we are working on task management. I’ve had reactions including “Are you crazy?” and “I’m worried for you”. But I have found this feedback and concern motivating. My cofounder and I know what we are getting into, and we wouldn’t be going into this space without something completely different. Task management is the easiest way to explain what we are doing, but in actuality it’s just the beginning of what we’re doing. We wouldn’t both quit our jobs at Micorosoft during a recession for another to-do list. Another reason I feel comfortable going stealth is that we are not trying to raise funding – in fact, we’re trying to avoid it, if that’s possible.

Fortunately, I have been able to turn around most of our skeptics. If you’re still skeptical because ‘task management has been done’, here are some thoughts:
1) People forget to do things all the time.
2) Despite all the available solutions, the market leader is still the sticky note.
3) Which solution do you use? If it is software, does it meet your needs?

stick notes

The TechCrunch article pretty much says you are a stealth startup, or you are not. We’re trying to find a hybrid – we don’t want to hide from view, but we don’t want to give away our secret sauce either. We are seeking significant feedback from individuals close to us. We promise to be as open as possible with all those interested. The specific implementation will be a surprise, but worth the wait.

So what do you think? Are we crazy to go into task management? Are we crazy to go stealth?

(Photo by Katie Weilbacher)