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Feb 7 / Vivi

How startups are like startups

Due to popular requests, here’s the story of my past 8 months. :-)

I left Google in July, to work with Radu on a yet-undetermined idea. I wasn’t very sure what I wanted to build at the time so the ideas behind the lean startup that my co-founder loved seemed good as a starting point.

The first idea

We first tried to solve dating. I don’t even remember if we had a name for this product. :-)

We thought it would be cool if you could meet likeminded people around you. What if you felt like seeing a movie that all of your friends already saw? Going to see it with somebody that shares some of your interests sounds like a good idea.

After two months we realized that people don’t really do that and it’s not a real problem, so we dropped it.

The second idea

Back to the drawing board.

We realized from building the previous idea that it would be interesting if we’d have better mobile analytics.

It would be so cool for mobile app developers to learn how their app performs in different contexts, depending on what their users do and where they are. We looked at the competition. Flurry sucked and we didn’t like other analytics services either.

We talked with a few people, they said that Flurry was good enough for them. We ended up building an SDK to see if some advanced context information on your phone would be useful to apps.

Nobody cared, we moved on.

The third idea

We looked at local search, something I really cared about since I worked on Google Maps.

I was looking for a bar one night and I realized that photos from the place would have been much better than ratings and reviews in that case.

We’ve built in two months an app that was like Foodspotting, but for bars and coffee shops, with photos of how the places looked like.

We applied with it to YCombinator but got rejected, I suspect largely because they didn’t like our idea and ten minutes is a very short time to evaluate a team.

After talking with a few more people we realized we were missing what Foodspotting had: a passionate community of people that produce all this content.

The fourth and current idea

After six months and three failed ideas I realized that the lean startup methodology is not for me. I understand it rationally but it doesn’t match my personality.

I need to work on visions that I strongly believe in and I am passionate about, even if it’s a riskier way. And because Radu didn’t like this approach or the idea I wanted to work on, we parted ways.

I started working on PicSpree by myself. (if you install the app, don’t forget to rate it 5 stars. :-) thanks!)

I care deeply about social and I am frustrated that even though my friends put a lot of data in my social network, I don’t have good tools to take advantage of that.

I want to build those tools, and I started with a better Facebook Photos app that will have added layers of meaning built on top of the large pile of photos that your friends uploaded.

A friend helped me for a while, but he realized that he wasn’t ready to do this. So now I’m back at square one, with a vision and a product I’ve built mostly myself, looking for a partner to join me in this vision and trying to get into TechStars to accelerate my company.

What’s the take away so far?

Startups are hard. Life kicks you when you’re down, sometimes repeatedly. You fail, you get up, try again, until you feel like you can’t do it anymore.

I made mistakes, for sure. I’m still learning. I still feel like I’m making progress and that I’m a better person every day. As long as I feel like that, I’ll keep doing this.

14 Comments

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  1. Mircea Pasoi / Feb 8 2012

    Most important startup lesson I learned was that as long as you survive, good things will happen, so don’t give up ;)

    • Vivi / Feb 8 2012

      Thanks Mircea! I’ll try to survive. :-)

  2. Cosmin / Feb 8 2012

    So startups are like startups? Not like finding love, boxing or the mayan jungle?

    • Vivi / Feb 8 2012

      All my other posts should have been “how exploring the jungle is like a startup”, “how boxing is like a startup”. :-) You see, building a startup is a great analogy for everything else. :-)

  3. Claudiu Constantin / Feb 8 2012

    Is good to share real facts like those above from time to time :) Good luck with your project! The app looks nice from what I saw in the screenshots; too bad I don’t have a smartphone to fully test it.

  4. rgig / Feb 15 2012

    I bet dating will see some interesting input from technology in the next 20 years. Sometimes you need to start at the right time; sometimes you need to be persistent; sometimes you need to be lucky. Often, all of the above. :) Good luck!

  5. Doru / Feb 16 2012

    I hope whatever you do, you’ll do it for Android users as well :-)

    • Vivi / Feb 16 2012

      Well, you Android users better be starting to pay for apps more often, how else do you want developers to care about you? :-)

      • kellogs / Feb 29 2012

        Hey, I like this idea! And would probably love it if it worked on icanhascheesburger.com too!

        Now cmooon! make it HTML5 and turn it into native app for everyone. I can has Bada version ? Yes, even that lamentable platform can make use of such technology, and your app seems like a good fit for it. And you also seem to be a pretty well-versed HTML-ist. So, why not use it ?

        And if you consider answering me, I am too thinking on starting up, in mobile phone apps market too, but my first headache is about a way to validate my ideas. It looks to me your way is like this: work 2 months on it, then ask people to test it. Am I getting it right ? Where do you take these people from ? is 100 enough, or ?

        :D

  6. Roxana / Feb 23 2012

    Ever thought of going to grad school? IMHO, you have a researcher’s mind: you like working on risky things whose outcome you can’t predict, you like solving difficult problems, you like writing about them, and you’re OK with failing. That’s what researchers do (including failing very often :) ). You should consider a place that allows you to think freely and doesn’t pressure you to publish (e.g., Stanford). Just go there for a visit and talk to some students and profs to get a feel for it. If you want to come back to NYC, Columbia’s a great place, too ;).

    • Vivi / Feb 23 2012

      Neah, grad school is too abstract for me. I don’t want to publish, I want to build things that people want, build real products for real people. I don’t want to be stuck in some researchy project that nobody cares about… and I’m not smart enough to be stuck in researchy projects that people would care about. :-)

  7. Roxana / Feb 24 2012

    I agree that 99% of research is as you describe. However, there are people who do very real things in grad school, too (not me — I cared too much about my degree :) ). The trick is (1) not to care about getting the degree and (2) to be at a school that encourages building real things and transferring technology into startups. That’s why I mentioned Stanford, which has a real startup culture.

    The benefit of doing an academia-spawned startup is that during the bootstrap process you’re not alone, but rather you have the opportunity to work with some of the smartest and best-trained people in the world, who also really understand startups and have the required connections to make things successful (e.g., Dave Cheriton, Mendel Rosenblum, John Hennessy, etc.). I suggest that you go and visit there for a few hours, just to get some field data. Intuition can be misleading if not backed by real experience.

    Re: your comment about not being smart enough to do real things at a place like Stanford, I beg to differ. IMHO, it’s much more difficult to make it on your own than with help from startup giants. For example, Dave Cheriton was the initial funder and supporter of your former bosses, and I’m sure he also helped them with connections and advice later on :). Now I’m sure that Sergey and Larry are extremely smart guys, but sometimes given a certain level of intelligence, connections and experience become the dominating factors for success.

    Anyway, just my two cents. Nice blogs, btw. ;)

    • Vivi / Feb 24 2012

      Are you trying to recruit me for Stanford? :-) I think it’s a little dangerous to pick exceptions and generalize from them.

      Sure there are great examples of successful companies started by PhD dropouts, but then again there are famous examples of companies started by college dropouts too (Apple, Microsoft). And yet you don’t recommend people drop out of college as a road to success.

      I think there are many ways to succeed and have a good time. PhD is one, dropping out of college is another, building a network out in the wild is another, and so on.

      My only rule for now is that, as long as I feel I’m growing, I’m sticking with the path I’m on. I joined Google a while ago and I stayed there for as long as I felt I was growing.

      I’m on my own now and I feel I am growing a lot so I’ll keep doing it as long as I feel that. When I’ll feel I’m stagnating I’ll pick another path again, whatever that might be at that time.

      That’s probably the main reason I’m not considering alternatives, I’m happy with what I’m doing now and I’m making progress. Hope that makes sense. :-)

  8. Adrian / Apr 5 2012

    I think your ideas have gotten better and better. PicSpree is definitely my favorite.

    Online dating will never be solved. Or maybe facebook solved most of it.

    Did you code from scratch or used a framework for PicSpree?

    Good luck.

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