No one said working at a startup was easy. Although we started StoryStack with the intensity of a thousand suns we’ve hit a few bumps along the way. Through three iterations of the product and countless meetings with friends and advisors we’ve realized the product in it’s current form is unlikely to be successful.  We’ve found ourselves stuck somewhere between Informed Pessimism and Crisis of Meaning.  Now what?  How do we turn our passion and drive into productive energy?

We have a smart, resilient team and are throwing around new ideas all the time. Should we succumb to the sweet Siren song of new ideas? Do we stick by our guns and pivot and push forward?  Here are the factors we used to dictate our direction:

Addressing Pain Points –  Is this a product that customers are begging for?  There are a bunch of ways to test this before you write your first line of code:

  • B2B – Find potential customers and cold email them a brief description of your product.  If you find it easy to get decision makers on the phone or in meetings you’re in good shape.  If after your pitch you can get them to commit to purchasing your product when it’s ready, you’re money.  If they love it until you ask them to pay… tread carefully.
  • B2C – Setup a landing page (like LaunchRock) briefly describing your product.  If you have a little cash buy some Facebook or Google ads leading to your landing page and see the percentage of people who sign up (see Zygna’s Ghetto Testing).  If you’re broke: email, tweet and FB message your way to a sufficient sample size.
  • Another good indicator are homebrewed/hacked together solutions for the problem your product tries to address.  Are people stretching the limits of existing products or using multiple products in weird ways to get the same result?  People are lazy, if you make it way easier to do something they are already doing, you’re probably on track.

Strengths of your team –  If you taught yourself to be a your own technical co-founder and don’t have experience building scalable web products, tackling a mass consumer B2C web product might not be the best idea.  If you’re a good sales gal and know how to manage customer acquisition through multiple channels then the company you choose to build should leverage those skills.

The right market –  I loved these two posts from Elad Gil:

As you iterate in a market, you will often find that the initial idea you chose is less important then the broader market you are in.  A great market will always have opportunities in it.  Even if the first idea is terrible you will get to know the market and its needs and build something great on your next try.  In contrast a great idea in a terrible market will often fail. ~ You don’t need a good idea to start a great company

But how do you know if you are in the right market?   Paraphrasing from How Can You Tell If Your Market Is A Good One?

  • What’s changed about the market? Are there cost changes, new distribution channels or technologies?
  • Is the industry and customer base growing rapidly?
  • Is there a lot of interest in the market?

Passion - Even if you have the product that customers would line up for, fits excellently within the strength of your team and is in a killer up and coming market the number passion is still the most important factor.  Startups are hard.  Are you going to be thinking about your product 24×7?  Are you gonna love coming to work even when it sucks and it seems like you aren’t making progress?  Do you HAVE to work on this?

..the best startup you can create is one where you will be constantly engaged in thinking about improving the product, maximizing the user experience, and planning for the future -where you have real passion for making it work. ~ The Passion Gap: Why Foursquare, Groupon, Facebook, And Apple Are Winning

So what are we doing?  The short answer is that we’ve decided to delay the decision.  We’ve temporarily put StoryStack on the back burner and  while we work on a (soon to be announced) social, music product.  We’ll do a small launch next week, quickly reach the area between informed pessimism and crisis of meeting and go through the whole thought process again…

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