Into the wild after the exit.
After your app is acquired, what next?
Once the dust settled on the sale of my app, Cupple, in early 2013 it was time to try and figure that out.
What now? What next?
I didn’t make enough money to go ‘sit on a beach’, start angel investing or indulge in supercharged v12 engines. Once everything was done, squared up and transferred to our new owners there was a void. The acquisition had given me time. But what to do with it?
The truth is after the exit I didn’t have a clue what to do next. I’d spent close to 3 years working on a singular vision to make ‘private sharing easy’. I wore the t-shirt, attended the events, pitched my deck and had my Poloroid picture glued to the startup wall. I was part of something. I went to bed with it and woke up with it. There was no question.
I tried to make the most of the time I had earned, travelling across the Nordics and the UK to meet some companies and share my story. We held a private event at Founders House where I talked quite candidly about some of the details and sat down with some friends over a beer.
A few particular highlights were being invited to speak at the Ustwo Studio in Malmo and startup mentoring at Ignite in Newcastle. I caught up with old friends in some different places, enjoyed a fully funded summer in Copenhagen and managed to find some time to record some music with a couple of mates and release it on Spotify.
Looking back I was in quite a privileged position. But there is always a nagging feeling of what comes next. Can you go bigger and better with a new idea? Where do you fit in the landscape? What if? Those questions didn’t come straight away but they were there quite early on.
Now, almost 18months after the acquisition life has changed a whole lot. Some of what has happened is perhaps predictable, some of it completely unplanned. Sometimes I should have known better, did know better and sometimes you have to play the cards in your hand and not the ones in the deck.
It was the start of this year I began my weekly commute from the flats of Copenhagen to the peaks of Switzerland. Working with Shape, who’d recently scaled their successful app design business to Zurich, I was off to consult a leading pharmaceutical company in the heart of the enterprise world. My role officially was UI & UX designer.
I was mostly out of my comfort zone straight away having clambered out of the beanbag-cosiness (or ‘Hygge’ as the Danes would say) of the shared workspace culture to a massive corporate environment. The contrast against what I had been doing was part of the allure and one of the reasons the challenge was an interesting one. Of course, allure is a word often used by advertisers to sell perfume and change doesn’t always smell that great.
The complexities of working with a new team, some of which were offshore, on a project with big and sometimes unset expectations were apparent early on. Challenges involved in defining new process, building products with different people, displaying competency, winning customers and competing with existing vendors were all evident. Everything didn’t go totally smoothly or as expected for the team immediately.
The good news is the project is in its best shape since the start of the year. People are learning to trust each other, minimising the mistakes and delivering the goods. It’s a cool thing to be involved in and although we’re a small part of what is clearly a huge vision for the company the future looks very interesting. The plan is to scale and replicate our project globally in the US, LaCan and China and then connect the hubs. My team is pioneering the process.
This opportunity had presented itself towards the end of 2013, coinciding with the end of a 3 month development sprint on a product idea I’d been trying to bring to life called ‘Fourpio’.
Fourpio is basically a big platform idea. Think Medium meets Google Docs designed specifically and restricted to authoring teams of four. A fix for the ‘lonely writer’ problem. A new space where a team not an individual is credited or criticised;
‘Four people. One team. A publishing and reading platform designed for teams of 4 people to compose, curate and encourage opinion’.
After shooting for a November 5th launch I missed the mark. I never quite realised and/or didn’t admit to how much work would be required to build the V1 coupled with, in honesty, never quite realising the value proposition clearly enough to execute it.
Simplifications became complications in product design, progress was slow, people involved were trying to balance other commitments and potential investors wanted to see the usual evidence and requisites for conversations to go past the coffee and pleasant meeting stage.
I didn’t take enough time crafting the fundamentals and getting the basics right. I didn’t think things through the right way. I didn’t lay the foundation properly.
Of course there were lessons learned here and lots of positives. Some solid code was written by some talented people I’d convinced to come on board. People who gave up free time and worked long into the night at times on the project I’ll always be grateful to. Interesting and productive debates ensued, fuelled by the focus of four. Some colourful design ideas were sketched out and the sense of purpose and vision was appreciable.
We got close to something. But not quite close enough to put it in front of users. Not quite close enough to see it over a finish line.
Seven things I learned from the experience:
- Be at the wheel. Hands on control of what you are making is a must at the start. You should be able to make any change to anything at anytime without having to make a phone call or send an email.
- Don’t rush it. Good stuff takes time to build. Deadlines are useful but don’t impose foolish ones on yourself or the team to forcefully make things exist.
- Common Senses. You will not raise a £1m seed round armed only with a deck no matter how much you think you will.
- Be the Batman. After being called ‘batshit crazy’ during a pitch by a VC I felt like it was the most positive feedback I’d ever got as an entrepreneur. It still might be. Take advice and criticism exactly how you need to.
- Doer Experience. Whether a project pans out the way you expected or planned is secondary, the experience will be with you always. That is foremost. That is your edge.
- Super Busy. You’re not working as hard as you could. Eating pizza and drinking beer at events is not ‘work’ and you’re not going to get what you want done ‘working’ like this.
- Bubble Bobble. If you’ve been doing ‘startup stuff’ for more than 12 months get up and do something completely ‘normal’ or different for a week or so. You’ll be inspired by the experience.
So last week I launched a brand new product into the market. I’d initially set out here to write a post about Jagger Frames and what inspired me to build again. I wrote a first draft and shared it with a friend who advised me I should “set a course for the story”.
I’m at the wheel of a new product and in no hurry to rush any decisions or new features. Common sense is being used while we learn from these early days and the feedback we’re getting from users. The vision is just on the right side of crazy and it’s cool to be doing another consumer app again. I’m working as hard as I can and fortunate enough to be involved in some different projects and places I can use for inspiration.
Now I just need to work out what to do next.