A Startup Journey: AI-Powered Personal Optimization, Solo CRM, Career Management, Crypto Trading, And More? [Part 1]

“person crossing on the bridge” by Glen Jackson on Unsplash

The first two posts in the Startup Journey series started us down a clear path (basically, why do a startup, followed by going solo). The next two posts involved databases and outsourcing.

In this post, we’ll dive into some of the pivots that I mentioned in earlier posts, including some lessons learned. After that, a future post will consider future directions. Now, just relax and get ready for an obvious fact…

Fact: Startups Pivot

It’s just reality. Many startups start down one path, but end up going down one or more other paths.

For example, I recently met a founder of a pretty cool robotics startup that began with a more biotech-related idea. You can find a ton of examples with a quick internet search, but let’s dig into some examples for Next Mountain, as well as some of the why’s.

Pivots At Next Mountain

As you may have already realized, I don’t have trouble coming up with startup ideas — indeed, startup ideas in all shapes, forms, and flavors.

I mean, so many ideas, so little time. How can I build them all? Or really, which should I build first?

I’ve considered hundreds if not thousands of ideas over the years, so the company’s first focus was an expression of that long-pent-up creativity.

Get ready for it…

AI-Enhanced Social Personal Optimization (Well, Of Course!)

I explained Next Mountain’s initial focus in the post on database selection. I’ll just quote myself a little bit here, and we’ll begin in typical buzz-wordy startup form and style:

Next Mountain’s initial product focus was AI-enhanced social personal optimization.

OK. But, why?

I constantly wondered… Why don’t people make the most of their abilities? Why don’t people set and achieve more goals? What can be done to help those situations?
So, when I left my prior role and founded Next Mountain, this is what I wanted to work on. A tool that people could use to optimize their lives through technology.

Yeah. So, it’s still vague. To add some flesh to the bones that we’re staring at,

[the] idea began as a combination of goal setting across multiple categories, making personal commitments, sharing progress publicly, a big sack of metrics, and an AI version of your conscience, to keep you on track and suggest what you could be doing. Additionally, you would be able to chat with and encourage friends and groups of friends, add tags to goals, and so on.

As I explained in the prior post, this idea drove a lot of my initial technology selection processes. And you can probably see how AR/VR could be integrated, as well.

At this point, let’s take a break for a little sanity…

Taking a big step back, I was adding way too many features before getting a prototype out. I know, I know, lean startup (and a big dollop of credit to the TPS team), failing fast, MVP, rapid prototyping, and so on. Yes, I know and have used these concepts in several different contexts. Laugh if you like, but it’s just too easy to get wrapped up in your own excitement when you start building an actual product.

Another part of the scope creep comes from a preference for clean code. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but I’m more of a software craftsman, because the spaghetti always catches up with you. And while I was using NoSQL, which is “schemaless”, inserting a document creates an implicit schema, which should be managed vigilantly lest you end up with a bunch of cruft and confusion.

If you find yourself in this phase of your startup, Sam Altman offers some sage advice — find a core group of early users that loves your product and will use it. One of his Startup Class videos features a useful chart showing that for a given quantity of customer love, it’s better to spread it over a smaller number of people (a few people who love you) than a larger number of people (many people who kinda, sorta like you).

And I knew this going in, but again… excitement. (In addition to Paul Graham’s legendary essays, I recommend watching each of the YC startup school or startup class series, e.g. 2014, 2018, or participating in a current session of startup school, as you can.)

Anyway, at some point, sanity prevailed. I frequently step back from problems to check my progress and the quality of my decisions. Reflecting on this state of affairs, it was clear that I needed to either (a) simplify this Rube Goldberg machine or (b) do something else for now.

Perhaps doing something else sounds drastic, but the time and resources invested were a sunk cost, so they were not the primary concern. The primary concern was to push the company forward.

In considering how to limit the scope, I entertained several ideas, from extreme fitness to mental health to education, and beyond. I personally cared about each of these ideas, which is important, because it sucks to work on things that don’t matter to you.

But while thinking these options through, I noticed another niche that I believed was underserved. And here’s where the pivot happened.

What’s Next?

It turns out that writing long posts means that I have a lot of partially finished blogs, so I’m going to break this one up. We’ll consider the first pivot in the next post.

Posts In This Series


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