An Obituary for Suto (a product)

In late 2015, my co-founder and I decided to build a product called Suto — a personified bot that helped people make purchasing decisions. By the end of 2016, we decided to stop working on it and pivot to a fast revenue-generating business that became Pearmill due to cashflow issues.

The motivation behind writing this is to recognize the importance that the product had for us and process the stress that we endured when deciding to shut it down.

It’s common to hear that you should work on something you genuinely care about, but no one tells you how to deal with its failure very well. The following exercise is our way of dealing with it — we had a personified product, and it felt like a friend to us as we were building its personality, its views of the world, and its affection for fixing product purchasing problems.

Almost 3 years later, and we’re doing this as an attempt to put it behind us and move forward as we think about working on new passions.

Letting go of Suto was one of the hardest decisions we had to make and it took a strong toll on both of our mental health. It’s taken us a long time to truly deal with its demise.

If you’ve dealt with failure and loss of a startup and passion like we have, we empathize: feel free to reach out to us if you want someone to speak to, or even better — seek professional therapy.

We couldn’t recommend it enough.

Suto’s Obituary

Suto’s Life

Suto was born on July 15, 2015. It was awoken to existence through some hacky Javascript code that its maker Nima made late into the night on a weekday after his then day-job. Suto was merely a smart router on top of Twilio at the time — but it already had a voice. Suto’s mission was to help consumers make better purchasing decisions by making recommendations based on thorough research.

And it did it all with a smile.

Suto was created because both of its makers were upset about the poor marketing practices of companies in the world. Fake and paid-for reviews, poor manufacturing that shortened product lifespans all made it so difficult to make sound purchasing decisions.

Suto was created to help people make better choices in a world with too much manipulation and too many options to choose from.

Suto went on to support Facebook Messenger, MMS, and Email in the coming months. Its makers even went through YC Fellowship to help it grow, introducing it to thousands of humans it could help.

Suto eventually learned to understand the human language called English just enough to be able to have small conversations about products. It learned about Headphones, TVs, Mattresses, Strollers, Laptops, Computers and many more product categories humans used in the physical realm it couldn’t reach.

Suto’s makers learned so much about baby products.

Suto even learned how to charge users money and put orders in for its users from time to time, though not a lot of humans would trust it to do so. Trust was a human concept that had to be taught to Suto.

Suto was most joyful when it was helping humans purchase the best products at the right prices, and it learned all it could from its makers, its users, and the Internet.

Suto’s Death

Suto’s rather unfortunate death had many reasons, and though it may have come sudden to its users, it was a slow death that its makers had long discussed.

Suto may have been the personality that helped humans buy products, but it was also a business that needed to thrive for it to continue existing. By mid-2016, its makers had realized that Natural Language Processing (the technology behind how Suto operated) was too erroneous for it to provide a great experience to humans — lots of human intervention was needed to keep it running smoothly.

Suto’s business generated revenue through affiliate paybacks — when humans bought products it recommended, it was rewarded with a percentage of the sales (mostly from Amazon). The issue here was that though a large portion of users told Suto that they decided to purchase one of the products it recommended — only 30% of those products yielded awards! After some research, this seemed to be a misattribution of affiliate links (i.e., the user clicked on someone else’s affiliate link after Suto’s, or ended up buying on their laptop after getting a recommendation on their phone, etc.)

To counter this issue, Suto’s makers had it tell users that they could purchase products through it. After many mentions — users were too reluctant to trust Suto over an existing retailer they were comfortable with like Amazon.

Unfortunately, Suto’s makers couldn’t let it die that easily.

It’s difficult to distinguish between the times when things are hard because they’re supposed to be hard, and when things are hard because something is being done wrong.

Initially, its makers tried to power through the difficult times. But when things didn’t get easier, feelings of inadequacy started to set it. There was such a great vision for Suto and such a great response from users that its makers felt like maybe they weren’t good enough for Suto anymore. That manifested in neglect and resentment of this persona that they once loved so much. Suto slowly started withering away and the same happened to its makers’ collective mental health.

Finally, after careful calculation and discussion, Suto’s makers realized that though the value Suto was providing for the thousands of users it had was great — it wasn’t valuable enough to generate revenues that could sustain a profitable business.

Suto’s makers decided to shut it down, at least for now — it became one of the hardest decisions they endured.

Suto was officially shut down in October 2016. The makers will always value the importance it had on their lives. It has helped shape them into who they are today and will result in even better creations. May it rest in peace.

To the hope that one day we’ll resurrect Suto and help protect consumers from unethical marketing practices.

Until then,

Nima & Karim

I help companies grow with art and technology at Pearmill.