Chronicle #1: Scaling — 0 to 50 Overnight

As I finish out the “Undergraduate” chapter of life, several interesting projects have kept me busy. Perhaps the most daunting has been Quibbl, which has made incremental progress despite plenty of fits and sputters.

As a technology & media community startup, we came to the realization of simultaneous problems — solving one won’t make our problems go away; solving them all will get us a bit closer, but even then — solving them all won’t have an immediate impact. It will only provide a foundation from which to chip away at all the important work that must be completed.


Ghost Towns

One of the realizations we came to was that a “Ghost Town Effect,” in which people show up to an empty product with few other users. Losing users along the way will continue to prevent us from ever developing a community. Goal: get more people on the site, ensure those people have something of value once they get there to keep them around. Sounds easy enough, right? Nope.

As a two-fold problem, we have no users and nothing to draw them to the product; limited media (articles and Quibbls) currently draws them in, and right now the platform isn’t build for users to effectively contribute their own content. Fixing both of these will be a major step, but it’s a chicken-and-egg situation.

Ghost Town Effects — when people show up to the barebones, but no one else is there. It’s creepy, and not good for business.

Initial Value

Ok, so if we want a baseline level of users, we need to generate a baseline level of media content that draws people in and delivers value to those that show up. How do we create lots of content?

Lots of writers.

We’re actively recruiting handfuls of par-time writers to crank out 1 or 2 articles per week. So far, we’ve brought in some really talented and gifted writers for politics, sports, and entertainment, and they’re producing great work. However, we’re only scratching the surface and we’re not even close to working at full capacity with the staff we have today.

Management

When you add people without proper management, you’re inviting chaos and dysfunction.

Right now, we don’t have most of our management principles and processes in place to oversee the small army of part-time writers. We don’t even have a formal on-boarding process, so it takes a week or so before writers are really able to get up to speed; that time needs to decrease to a few hours at most.

In addition, we have tons of documentation about Quibbl, it’s strategy, it’s technology products, and other aspects of the startup. But we don’t have the minimum documentation for our writers to create great content, and we don’t have the right context & frameworks for our managers to keep them accountable. How can we grow a small army if that army has no field manual, and it’s lieutenants haven’t been to officer training school?

Technology

Oh right, Quibbl is also a technology product.

Right now, the site exists as a nice shiny front-end demo covering a lot of crap. It’s OK for validating some underlying hypotheses, but it’s not scalable or capable of quick iteration.

Our incredibly talented software engineer, Nick, built the current Quibbl site in about 3 weeks in order to submit it for Y Combinator. Through a ton of preparation, late nights, and luck, Nick and Dan (CEO) made the final-round interview where we were ultimately rejected.

YC gave us some great feedback, and in the coming months we will use the user feedback from our demo product and the suggestions form YC to build out a better, cleaner, well-architectured product that can continue to evolve. Along the way, we will use user feedback as much as possible to continue to refine and guide our development energy and resources. We’ve also been recruiting some friends to do some part-time development as we build out in the coming months.

Final Thoughts

I haven’t even been involved with Quibbl for very long, but it has already been an invaluable learning experience. From management, to organization, to collaboration, to integration — everything needs to work in sync, but getting all the moving parts to work together is easier said than done, especially when it’s done from scratch. This process has made me appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of my structured approach to work; it’s helped me appreciate my ability to ask difficult questions; and it’s helped me appreciate just how brilliant others are in their own spaces and fields, and the amount of opportunities that exist to learn from one another.

Looking forward to a busy summer, a new management system, new writers, and a new product launch coming in the next few months! Stay tuned.

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