It was a good run, Iris

Here’s to exciting new chapters of my life


If you are an entrepreneur, you probably have dreamed of one day, you take the stage in a keynote, announcing a new product and it goes viral in weeks if not months. You hear people in coffee shops talking about your product, and you begin to see how your product is actually making an impact and solving people’s problems. These kinds of Cinderella stories only happen to 1% of entrepreneurs. The other 99% realize, at some point, that it’s not working and that it’s time to move on. I realized recently that it’s time for me to move on, like the other 99%.

I’ve been working on a startup called Iris for 3 years. Our vision was to connect like-minded people by creating a platform for people to share and discover ideas published by people with similar interests. I’ve been passionate about blogging since I was 14, and as a blogger, the difficult part is not the writing part, but sharing it — how can you make sure that your audience can find your article? With Iris, we used the power of natural language processing to automatically determine the topic of your article, so that anyone who’s interested in the topic can quickly find your article. (Enough pitch, if you are curious, you can read more here: http://www.irisbeta.com/article/235929600/whats-iris)

We’ve recently launched — but full disclosure, it was more of a f**k it, ship it thing. We had confidence in our vision and our product. But some times, you can’t launch a successful startup with just and vision and product. It requires some luck and great timing. We didn’t have those.

Competition

I love Medium as much as I hate them.

Around the time we pivoted to more of a blogging platform in late 2012, we heard of a new blogging platform called Medium. At that time, it was solely focused on writing high quality content without emphasis on discovery. But we knew that the vision was pretty much the same as ours, and as such, it was a very logical step for them to work on navigation & discovery as their next features. They recently rolled out a redesign a higher emphasis on categories and search. With the change in user interface and better search algorithm, this has pretty much invalidated our main value proposition. What’s more, we introduced a feature this summer called BlogSync that allows users to import content from their blogs. Medium rolled out Import a Story this October. Again, a very rational decision for a blogging platform.

When you have a product that’s similar in vision as your competitor, but when your competitor has a much larger team and the CEO is a Silicon Valley rockstar whereas you have a team of college students, you can’t really compete. (Unless you do something drastically different) Because of this tough competition, we knew it’s going to be extremely difficult to continue pursuing Iris.

Team

One of our co-founder, Rachit, is moving to Houston at the end of this year.

It’s due to reasons I can’t really say, but all I can say is that I would’ve done the same if I were in his position. That said, due to the huge role he plays in our engineering team, we would have had to either find a replacement or work remotely while pursuing a full-time job.

I’ve always said that there are three criteria for a great co-founder: 1. Skill 2. Passion 3. Team Fit. Rachit is the best example of a great co-founder for me and I knew it’s going to be nearly impossible to find a replacement in a short amount of time.

Let’s face it, if we are struggling to compete against Medium when we are together in Berkeley, then it’s going to be infinitely harder when all of our team members are away and are pursuing full-time jobs. Yes, there are people who have successfully launched a startup while working remotely, but this sounds more like long-distance relationship stories where you start out thinking it will work, but in most cases it falls apart.

My Passion

Last year, one of my mentors asked me, “Why do you work on a startup?” I didn’t really have an adequate answer for it.

Traveling makes me contemplate on a lot of things. While I was traveling in Italy this year, I looked back on that question, and realized that what makes me really excited about working on Iris is not that I’m building a business, but I just really liked the product design aspect of it. I loved thinking about the product vision — connecting like-minded people — and crafting an experience that makes the vision come true and molding that experience into a tangible user interface. On the other hand, I didn’t enjoy all the other hundreds of responsibilities that you have to do as an entrepreneur: marketing, funding, etc. That made me come to a realization that my career path is more in line with design than entrepreneurship.

No Regrets

I am still very proud of our accomplishments in Iris. We’ve done so much in three years and each of us has grown so much as product managers, designers, and software engineers. I still think that if we had just more luck and the timing was right, we could’ve been successful. We’ve tried our best, launched the product at the very end, and this leaves us with no regrets.

Perhaps one day, after 2–3 years, we might come back as a same team again. If we see that our vision of “connecting like-minded people” hasn’t been solved yet, perhaps we might tackle it again in a different approach.

That said, I want to thank everyone who has supported us thus far with Iris. We would never have come this far without your support, and it’s been a great journey.

Next Chapter

As for me, my personal vision has shifted to create the best design agency and brand that strives to make technology more beautiful and easier to use. As a designer, you learn the most by looking at other great designs, and even better, working with other great designers.

I am super stoked to be working at Box as a product designer starting next year to shape the future of the way people work. I’ve always wanted to make technologies more beautiful and easy to use, and one of the untapped areas in design is enterprise. I can’t wait to share some of my insights with you as I start my new journey to create a more beautiful Box and a more human enterprise. (Check out a post by our new VP of Design @ Box, Ethan: https://medium.com/@ethanjb/designing-for-a-beautiful-enterprise-8b5ce3d25509)

I will also be doing some freelance on the side. Over the winter, I will be working with 3 clients — one about gaming, another about entrepreneurship, and the other about education. Stay tuned ☺

What’s next? Not sure. I might start a design agency right after, study abroad in Europe, or perhaps even come back to the startup world. I’ve been afraid of uncertainties before, but I now feel that uncertainties are just another forms of millions of opportunities that that I can take. I don’t know what lies ahead, but I am sure it will be an exciting one.

Here’s to exciting new chapters in my life,

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