Plus, an Announcement about Beta Testing!
One year ago today, we were just embarking on this adventure, laying the groundwork for what would become Verbatm. The concept was murky and the company was months away from being established, but a general semblance of goals and structure was emerging. We worked in public spaces on Stanford campus from when they opened in the morning till the janitor kicked us out at night, refusing our offer of equity in exchange for letting us staying late. We crashed with friends, squatted in lounges, and fled residential education staff. In three weeks — August 29th through September 18th, 2014 — I moved six times and spent the night in eight different places.
We wanted to see what this new, unfamiliar path entailed — partially to be assured that things would get better (turns out I really enjoy having secure housing), partially to prepare for things getting worse. So the team began taking meetings with people who had worked at startups previously, in capacities ranging from founder to employee #50 to concerned onlooker. From this wealth of knowledge, a treasure trove that we’re so lucky to have received, one discrete theme was hammered home time and again:
It gets worse, they said, their knowing smirks hinting at the horrors to come. It will take over your life, they insisted. Metaphors ranged from running through a brick wall to trying to crash-land a plane — fun stuff. “Hardest thing you’ll ever do” was thrown around with distressing consistency.
And we, in our infinite wisdom, thought that sounded pretty cool and went for it. How you interpret that decision will tell you all you need to know about us.
We say all this not to glorify ourselves, nor to claim that working on a startup is better than other ways of life and we’re better people for doing so. Indeed, a large percentage of the population in Silicon Valley is very compelling evidence against such an argument.
No, this is an extremely roundabout means of context. Namely, this is to say that we didn’t believe those people until now.
Maybe, like so many of the best and worst and most memorable things in life, it’s something you can’t understand until it happens. When we got that advice we were already working so hard, with so much to do each day — how could it possibly get harder? To add another metaphor, how could there be another peak beyond the one we were climbing, and a whole mountain range past that?
How would we summon the strength to make it where we wanted to go?
Well, a year has passed and we still don’t entirely know. But we’ve discovered that wondering if we’re going to make it quickly becomes counter-productive — at best, it’s not going to get us there any faster, and at worst such doubts can become self-fulfilling prophecies. After awhile, we’ve learned that simply putting one foot in front of the other, concentrating on the individual tasks that constitute the grand vision, is not just the soundest strategy, but the only one.
And that’s why we want to take a moment to celebrate a few of those accomplishments, while still acknowledging all the work yet to be done.
Our last month at Matter has been a blur of movement, meetings, and complications — hard work, and ultimately, hard-won progress. We’ve instituted procedural and structural changes that have greatly improved team communication and dynamics. We’ve made valuable connections and partnerships with individuals and agencies that will help further our mission. We’ve conducted multiple rounds of needfinding and user testing, which have helped us refine our product and purpose while clarifying our mission. We’ve implemented overhauls of the creation and consumption of articles on our platform, reconstituting the fundamental identity of how Verbatm is experienced.
The Verbatm we’ve built in this time is the strongest yet expression of the reason we’re subjecting ourselves to this life. It’s the culmination of the concept sparked in the cafeteria, the tenuous notion we worked toward in lobbies and side rooms and lounges, the hazy dreams I saw when I closed my eyes on a stranger’s couch. As ragged as bringing it all to fruition has made us, holding (something reasonably close to) our product in our hands and the sense of real progress it evokes has given us more than enough energy to carry on.
It’s by no means done — not even close to being halfway there — but we’re far along enough to have reached one key milestone, and that’s what we’re excited to announce:
On Friday, September 11th, one day after Matter’s Design Review One, we’ll be launching a beta. We’re ready to share Verbatm with the world, to push it out there and see what people do with this thing that thus far has only existed in lines of code and paper prototypes and hours upon hours of discussion. And we’d love for you to be a part of it — send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested, or sign up on our website or Twitter. We can’t wait to see what you create!
As we continue to move toward a tangible, real product, we won’t stop imagining ways to make what we have even better. I’m still thinking about Verbatm when I close my eyes at night. But just a year on from those foundational weeks of excitement and uncertainty, I’m (thankfully) in my own bed, and my vision is far clearer, less dreamlike. It’s no longer of what Verbatm will be, but what it will become.
That vision is out there, somewhere amongst the peaks we can’t even see yet. All we have to do is keep climbing.