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So I Launched a Startup: Pt. 10: The Evolution

In the last post of my startup diary I talked about the challenges of prioritizing. A lot has happened over the last few weeks which has sucked up my time for writing. One thing is that I’ve started writing a book! Alas, it is not a published book, but rather the public-facing documentation for our startup! If you want to take a look: it’s available at docs.datadistillr.com. It’s a real page turner, let me tell you!!

I’ve been writing a lot about my experience as a startup founder, and what is interesting to me is the rapid pace of change that can happen in a company. In literally one day, your entire company’s fortune can change for the better or worse.

Evolution, Not Pivot

Now many startups will do what’s referred to as a Pivot. If you don’t know what a pivot is, it is when a company is trying to achieve product-market fit and they realize that while their original idea was interesting, something else might be better so they pivot to that instead. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and does happen quite frequently in startups. One famous example happened in the early days of PayPal. When PayPal was first founded, the company’s product was to let people send money to each other over Palm Pilots. However, they quickly realized that email was a better way to go, so they pivoted to that. But.. that’s not what happened with us.

Over the last two months, as our team expanded, we realized that we had to fully implement agile/scrum and improve our release process. We did both about two months ago and also implemented much more robust deployment and testing. I know… Zzzz. Hear me out. What was also significant was that all the back end components for a user to connect data to their tool were now in place and working really well. What this meant for our product was that we could give it to a user and it was completely self-service. Meaning that a user can log-in, connect or upload their data sources, and they are good to go in about five minutes.

This was a major evolution for our company because nobody really wants to use a data analytics tool on someone else’s data. Users want to try it out on their own data without having to spend a lot of time hooking it up. What this meant for DataDistillr is that we no longer just had a really cool demo. We had a product that people can actually use!

My team and I noticed this right away in our sales calls. Instead of grilling us and not being very enthusiastic about our tool, our prospective customers started asking: How can I try it? How much does it cost? etc. All this is very exciting for me as a founder because these are indications that we are inching closer to the next step in our journey which is product-market fit.

This also means that our company has hit another milestone: we have actual users.

Keeping Users Happy

As a founder, one of the things I’ve realized is how important excellent customer service is for young startups. (Any company really…) I realized that any good tech tool MUST have excellent resources for their customers when they get stuck. For a SaaS tool, this starts with documentation. To tie this back to the start of the post, I started working on our user facing documentation and was using a SaaS product called gitbook. In the middle of writing the docs, I attempted to sync with gitHUB, and managed to wipe out all my work. I thought, no big deal, I can just roll back the work right? Except I couldn’t. I lost all my work.

After many f-bombs and emailed support and read their documentation, I was no closer to restoring my work. At this point, my tolerance was gone. The whole experience taught me a lesson. At this point I would have switched documentation services in a heartbeat. I got no response from customer service, and while I was able to restore my work, I did it by cutting and pasting from previous version history.

The lesson to me was that startups can’t afford to have poor customer service. That means that when your product is live, it needs to work as advertised. There needs to be excellent documentation and ways for customers to get their needs met. If you don’t do this… well, they won’t be customers for much longer.

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