Let's Grab Coffee
I’m sitting in front of my computer, staring at the screen.
I can’t type anything.
The end or Dialog Analytics, a post-mortem
I started Dialog on a hunch that with chatbot proliferation there would be an opening for a dedicated analytics product, just like the web led to the creation of Google Analytics and mobile to Mixpanel. With that in mind, I was certain the winner in this emerging market would be the first to build a solution. The hype was real: Slack launched an $80M fund for chatbot startups, online news outlets were publishing conversational-related content at a breakneck pace and industry conferences were popping out all over the world.
It’s no wonder why I felt immense pressure to launch something before anyone else. I was on an emotional rollercoaster. At any moment I would discover an incumbent or competitor doing something similar, and it happened all the time. It felt reassuring to receive external confirmation, but honestly, I mostly felt deterred when Google and other larger companies launched their own solutions.
I’m sitting in front of my computer, staring at the screen. I can’t type anything. After 1 year of hard work and no revenues, it’s time to fold.
Things I got right
Given I was a first-time solo founder launching a bootstrapped business, I feel like I got a lot of things right:
- Focus, frugality
- Getting out there (Austin, NY, Palo Alto)
- Partnering with solutions providers (Smooch)
- Tech stack choice, iterate and build fast
- And more
There are no second chances for a new venture fluttering near the abyss.
I bought into the conversational wave’s irrational hype just like many others. Taking a second, hard look at Roger’s adoption curve could have cooled things down.
I wasn’t even close to having done enough customer interviews. As a technical person, it’s so much easier to code than to get out there and talk to your users. There’s no way someone gets out of this alive. When there is no clearly-defined problem to solve for, you wander in a product-building dystopia and die.
Being the first solution in an emerging market only generally improves odds, but doesn’t ensure success. Now more than 2 years later, it’s astonishing to realize how wrong I was in terms of timing. Being second or third gives you the advantage of avoiding the mistakes made by others and surfing a wave that has already started to form.
Being a solo founder. It’s just hard, and most often the source of failure amongst startups (#1 on Paul Graham’s startup mistakes list)
I always thought someone could become really good at something with enough efforts. The theory was missing one important aspect: it’s hard to be good at something you don’t like. Which was true of me for sales and business development at that time.
Living through a hype cycle and drinking the kool-aid is something you only do once. Next time I see such irrationality, I’ll try to cut through the noise and stay focused instead.
Building a solution in search of a problem is, again, something you only do once. I feel like I’ve become really good at spotting others making this classic mistake.
I was finally free for contract work and had the opportunity to work with DirtyLemon. While building Dialog I developed a then-rare expertise in conversational systems design and was suddenly a great fit with their core offering, which is buying beverage via SMS. Small bug fixes quickly morphed into a bigger refactoring which then led to a large re-write; creating the base for building new features. Their fast-paced environment and the NY attitude was a fun challenge.
Let’s grab a coffee
Sometime in September, I get introduced to someone with a business idea looking for a technical co-founder. My interest is grabbed. Even though none of the businesses I was involved with up to now have worked for me, my entrepreneurial thirst is still well alive.
Simon is a CPA-CA working at Price Waterhouse Cooper, one of the infamous Big-4 accounting firms, and was previously the first employee and CFO at Poka, a tech startup in the manufacturing space.
We grab a coffee at Cantook on St-Jean street, my favorite place in Quebec, and dive into the first of many long discussions on accounting, audit, and tech. While standing outside the coffee shop, our backs to the brick-wall, we discuss what is a financial audit, the pains of small businesses owners when having to deal with one, and the inefficiencies present in accounting firms. Turns out he has a rather ambitious idea: modernizing the audit industry.
Fast forward, 9h AM on November 27, 2017, Simon and I walk into the Cegep Garneau manager’s office to receive the keys to our new office. A couple of days ago we quit our jobs to launch Stamped, a modern audit firm for small and medium businesses.