In the part 1 of this post, I described how I broke and entered the startup scene. This outlines the initial trajectoryof how I ended up in BD. It probably makes sense to read first before continuing.
During the denoument of my YouAre.TV days, I secured a product consulting gig for a technology consulting firm. My initial outlook was that this would keep me afloat while I saw my subscription commerce project through. I had met the founder of the firm that hired me through an event I put together. I guess I must have made an impression on him. My assignment was to figure out how to make their consumer web product that was receiving little traction “work.” The gig started as a one month trial to see how we worked together.
The product I was consulting for was in the social search space. After some customer development during week one, I had convinced my employers to build a prototype for a new product that embodied the same “social search” theme that they loved. Instead of focusing on recommending businesses and services from your social graph, it would recommend content; something we could scrape. In 3 days we had a prototype that everyone was excited about. We called it Sfter (pronounced sifter).
During the course of that month, I decided to shelve the subscription commerce product for the time being. We were clearly trying to fit a square peg in a round hole and the team was getting pulled in different directions.
Amidst the euphoria of a product we all loved, my employers proposed spinning out Sfter into a new company at the completion of my one month assignment. They wanted me to run it as a co-founder and would provide me with the internal development resources to build it. Wearing the ship captain’s hat sounded awesome. I jumped at the opportunity.
I spent the next 6 months working on Sfter. “Working on” Sfter meant a lot of things. It ranged from leading product development to design to pitching investors only to consistently be told I should be working on something else. At the end of the day, I was more or less a product manager.
The final iteration of Sfter was an application that pulled in all your tweets, parsed the links from them, and served up ones related to keywords and phrases users indicated that they we’reinterested in. Think of it as Summify or News.me with a granular search technology built on top of it. It’s still around and pretty awesome.
The developers I was working with are incredible guys, but they live in Uruguay. The guys who were supporting me are amazing, but they had their own business to run. So majority of each day I spent on my own. Absent of company and enough skills to actually build the product, it became a lonely slog quickly.
This period emcompassed some of the most mentally and emotionally challenging days of my life. Though I had a bit more cash in my pocket, I was still more or less living paycheck to paycheck. Buying Starbucks stressed me out, let alone going out to dinner. But the financial challenges weren’t the reason I was tore up from the floor up. The barrage of emotional knife fights I endured stemmed from the realization that I had no idea what I was doing and had hastily thrust my self into a situation where I was not poised to succeed. For someone hellbent on progress, this was a hard pill to swallow.
I’m not a native technologist or designer, yet I was managing two developers to build a product supposedly going after a “big data play”. I had no insight into how long development tasks took, the cost-benefit of certain technologies, and what was actually going on under the hood. Most of the time this ambiguity left me feeling helpless which compelled me to learn basic front-end development and design skills. While this satiated my learning addiction, it failed to relieve my frustrations around the opacity of Sfter’s development or the nagging “is this what I should be doing with my life” feeling.
My initial mindset when I started working on Sfter full time was I needed to be “heads down.” I still networked when I could, but not nearly as much as I had done previously at YouAre.TV. At the time, I thought that getting the product out the door as fast as I could was the best use of my time. Considering I had an incredibly limited ability to actually move the product forward, I maniacally wasted time over-analyzing minute product decisions to occupy my thirst for feeling busy thus productive.
After about 4 months of subscribing to the “heads down” philosophy, I decided to shift gears by getting back on the pony that had got me to this point. I focused on relationship building. I started intentionally networking again and blogging more. Damn it felt good. I was engaging in activities that I was good at instead of trying to learn enough PHP to have some semblance of what was going on. I kept thinking to myself, it feels great to optimize around the things that come natural, instead of willing myself to get good at something I wasn’t designed for nor enjoyed.
Despite the raging pity party I just threw, the feelings I described didn’t stop me making an effort to push the ball forward on Sfter. After about 6 months we had a couple hundred people using the product or our engagement metrics were very good. Despite the positive steam it was picking up, it was around this time that an opportunity entered my hemisphere that I couldn’t resist getting excited about. SinglePlatform needed to hire a 2nd member of their BD team…
In part 3, I’ll conclude exactly how I ended up joining SinglePlatform and what someone looking to get into BD can learn from all this.