Pitch me this Billion dollar idea

Or how we lost focus from building the product to chasing after the wind

If you’ve been building a startup, you know that the experience is very much like playing with LEGO. If you’re playing with the right parts, they stick very well together and shape up an awesome creation.

The day we started Swipes, was a magical day.

All bricks fit and we felt a burning unstoppable passion. We had a simple need and the mission to fulfil it. We wanted to create an awesome app that acts as a timeline of your day and helps you get the important things done. We believed task management was broken and old school, and far away from our capabilities in interaction design.

After a month and half, working day and night, we crafted our beauty. And we couldn’t wait to tell the world about it!

While waiting for the approval in the App Store, we focused a bit on the business. As passionate entrepreneurs, we knew accelerators are the place to be.

We went to pitch it in front of Startupbootcamp’s investors.

Very sharp people! More than anything else we looked like kids passionate to show off their new toy. Imagine our surprise when the adults (“the investors”) felt nothing like it and thought we’re more or less wasting time on this toy. Were they right? Absolutely. And yet only from their point of view. There were no money to be made here and very little chance to succeed. We took the harsh comments back home and as any other kid — thought we’d still turn things around.

Upon the launch, Paul Sawers from The Next Web covered the story.

Lifetime thank you, Paul! Although just an MVP, he appreciated our app for what it was — simple, beautiful t0-do list built around smart interactions and great UX. From thereon, Swipes started growing, attracting users from all over the world. In a couple of weeks we were in over 110 countries with more than 15.000 users.

We cherished those users and their input! In the next few months, we went full in to build powerful features that they wanted. 3 people — an engineer, a designer and a hustler. Needless to say, our resources were very scarce. Indeed so scarce that we had to find a business potential in the app if we were to survive.

We hustled our way to an interview with the great guys from Launchpad LA, a leading accelerator in the States.

We talked to Sam Teller, Jamie Kantrowitz and Kyle Taylor. They had very thought-through questions and sharp comments. We loved their input. As much as we connected, at the end of the day it came down to “Where is the business here? What is the big million/billion dollar idea?”. We had none of that. We had a great passion for our app and that was not enough.

Facing the challenge of survival, Kasper and I, packed up and allocated to Bulgaria to cut on costs.

Stefan remained our ambassador in Aarhus, Denmark. Bulgaria is an awesome place — vibrant and relaxed at the same time. As a developing market, people burn with deep passion to prove themselves, to create things and build up the community. We met with the two accelerators there — Launchub and Eleven that are of an immense support the local startups. We cannot thank enough the guys from Launchub who gave us a big push and connections, introducing us to their network. Although we didn’t go for their program, we learned a lot and build up a relation.

On the 7th month of bootstrapping, we were now focused on shaping a big business idea.

A problem we can solve that would bring millions of dollars. After all, that was what was expected from us, right? For months, we spent enormous time writing applications to events and accelerators, pitching big business ideas, trying to convince investors and more importanly — ourselves that we have the secret sauce how to turn a to-do app into a well of wealth.

We talked to Techstars NYC.

To their new Managing Director — Alex Iskold, and the Director of the program, KJ Singh. We pitched to their investors with David Cohen in the room, asking us questions and challenging our approach. Damn, that was a great experience and achievement! These guys know what they’re talking about, they spot through all the blabbing and cut through the chains. They are also very helpful and friendly so don’t be afraid to reach out if you’re to apply. But yet again we faced the harsh NO, being judged on the same old criteria “Where is the business here?”.

We stood up again and went full in to the next challenge — Seedcamp’s week.

This is a week in London, where the 20 finalists gather, prepare their pitches, present to investors and most importantly meet the amazing mentors — the leading experts in any industry. It is a very intense programme and the input is worth more than you can ever pay for. Also getting the feedback from the team — Carlos Eduardo Espinal and Reshma Sohoni should be your goal. They’re very knowledgable, professional and awesomely helpful!

We met tens of investors — VC’s and angels and heard everything from “that business is a no go”, “call me on your next startup” to “you’ve cracked the code”, “that’s amazing, take my money”. After 9 months of building a to-do app, with 50.000 users globally, organic growth and bootstrapping team of 3, we had no comparison where we are on the charts. Besides the NOs we knew nothing of how much we’ve actually achieved already!

And this, dear readers, leads me to the know-how from this long story that we lived through with sweat and tears.

It is ok to be an app! It is ok not to have the billion dollar idea! But it is not ok to pretend and pitch a vision you cannot envision.

And that’s how we felt for the last few months. We stopped focusing on the core of our passion — building a beautiful, great to-do app, blindly believing this was not good enough. But for whom? The investors? That’s not why we built it!

We created Swipes because we needed it, we continued because we had 50.000 amazing, supportive users that believed in us. And that’s all that matters now.

So — Build for your users! Build for your passion! Then, I assure you, things cannot go wrong. And investments — well, sooner or later they’ll find you. ;)

¡Adiós Amigos!