A New Beginning
This is a story about soaring into the sky, falling, crashing, putting yourself back together, and trying to fly again.
That year I went from partner to employee, from teammate to solo, and from friend to enemy.
Early in January, I joined a small startup as the first employee, with open intentions of becoming a partner soon after. In just a few months the team grew from 3 to 10 people, the company moved from one of the cofounder’s house basement to an office, and business exploded. We were first-time entrepreneurs, moving fast and figuring out most things as they came. I must admit to this day it’s been the most thrilling year of my life. I’ve learned a lot, gained confidence and valuable experience.
Unfortunately, by the end of the year, it was clear I wouldn’t become a partner in the company. It was my hope from the beginning, and I took the hit very hard. I thought I had finally found a project I could contribute to that would become bigger than me, and where everyone had plenty of room to grow. I learned the hard way you can’t be the biological father of a child you haven’t conceived.
Incomprehension, deception, and broken hopes were weighing heavy on me. I took the resolution not to feed my anger and resentment, trying not to become a shadow of myself living in an alternate reality where things would have been different. Easier said than done.
In march, I was finally ready for a new adventure. Hardened by the recent war story, I was careful not to repeat the same mistakes. I still had the fire, and explored a few ideas but I couldn’t find anything that would be viable within my constraints.
Then, Facebook released the messenger platform at F8 and the bot storm took the world. It had the effect of a bomb - creating new paradigms and opening appealing opportunities. A shift was suddenly in motion and either you jumped or you watched it happen. I started Dialog Analytics during these times of disruption and turmoil.
I thought I knew how the startup game worked by watching it from afar for a long time, but doing it for real is something else. I’ve spent most of the year validating the market, building the product, and talking to users.
Here are some adventures that happened while building Dialog:
Rode the 12 hours Adirondack train to New-York twice to meet with Betaworks for their botcamp program and to attend a bot meetup. Unfortunately, Dialog was not selected for botcamp but I learned a lot by being under the intense pressure of pitching a then vague idea.
Met with a Googler at the Googleplex to talk bots.
Hiked in the beautiful Big Basin Redwoods State Park with my brother.
Attended Salesforce’s Dreamforce, and was blown away by the sheer size of the event.
Connected with many entrepreneurs from Quebec, Montreal, Austin, Tel Aviv, Berlin and San Francisco.
At the moment the product is still in beta, with a few customers using it daily. I’ve built SDKs for Node and Ruby, integration examples for Facebook Messenger, Telegram, Twilio SMS, Kik, Botkit as well as Botpress. I also released a 1-click integration for Smooch, allowing clients to install Dialog without coding skills.
Despite what it seems, building a SAAS business is incredibly hard. Being a solo founder with a bootstrapped business just adds more difficulty. I’ve adopted proven strategies to tackle these challenges:
- Frugality: Keeping expenses low is a tremendous advantage that gives you a lot of flexibility.
- Product focus: Building something people want is the single most important thing.
- Talking to users: It’s time-consuming, but it’s also a necessity that will spare you a lot of efforts going in the wrong direction.
The next steps are iterating towards product/market fit, determining a pricing model and coming out of beta. Fun times ahead :)