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Gearing up for internet strangers ⚙️
On gaining conviction and being official-ish
Hi all -
It's been a wild couple of weeks with the SVB banking saga and epic new releases from major AI companies (round up below). It feels like a constant barrage of news, and I wish I could catch my breath. 😮💨
I was hoping to start sharing access to a small group of y'all in this newsletter, but I realized that I need to make sure I'm buttoned up before I start inviting internet strangers onto my very-early prototype. I'll be better able to set expectations around early access during my next post. Stay tuned!
Mar 22 ‘23 Status Update
Success Metrics - N/A for now
Reminder: one goal for Q1 was to decouple myself from pursuing vanity metrics, so I’m holding off on setting metrics for now.
Quick Updates and Lessons Learned
Starting small feels right - I've gotten great feedback from a small group of friends and family. It's been valuable feedback, showing me where to invest next (and not getting scared off by the rough edges). I'm very grateful.
Existential anxiety is real, and I'm struggling not to rush things - It's been tough not to obsess about vanity metrics and external validation. On the one hand, friends have encouraged me to raise funds and said some very kind things. On the other hand, I'm struggling to get some friends and family to test out what I'm building. A mentor was less than enthusiastic. This can be demotivating. A wise friend told me to anchor on my real deadlines: are there monetary deadlines? Personal output deadlines? I remembered that I gave myself through EOMarch to be completely unstructured; I don't need to "figure it out" just yet. I'm still allowing myself to have fun.
Where I could use your help
Send me any and all children's Edutainment products, and let me know if you have things you like, dislike, and what the absolutely "must have" features are.
Per the last newsletter, I asked if anyone had any recommendations re: coding tutorials (thanks to the folks who submitted!): A book on Django for beginners and Thunkable, a no-code platform for building apps.
Here are some of the storytelling + AI resources y'all shared (and thanks to the folks who submitted!): Tips for using ChatGPT for telling stories, Maven course on AI storytelling, Podcast re: sci-fi and aI storytelling
It's been wild the last two weeks for AI. Here's a roundup of the most exciting things I saw.
GPT-4 launched with a bunch of initial partners (e.g., Duolingo and Khan Academy) and some wild experiments on Twitter (roundup, startup productivity, self-healing Python scripts, and GPT-4 making a business from $100
It's now possible to run a reasonable LLM on your home computer via LLaMa 🤯 (not legal to use commercially yet, and an easy wrapper if you want to try)
Midjouney v5 launched, and it does hands well!
Benedict Evans shared an interesting meta-context in "The New Gatekeepers" contrasting who used to own business and who owns it now.
It feels like a miss not to mention Bard launching to early access (Google’s answer to Chat-GPT), but I was surprisingly uninterested in trying it.
Gearing up for internet strangers ⚙️
It's strange to transition from a hobby to a potential business. I built many projects at Google from 0→1, but there was always executive sponsorship and many resources to leverage. When I was in Area 120, we were scrappier, but even then, I had to validate my ideas with execs and have my launch reviewed by Privacy, Legal, Marketing, Security, etc. You get the picture.
Now I have to answer on my own: Should I even attempt to make this AI-powered story product see the light of day? I've probably gone back and forth on "should I make this a company" 100 times. I wanted to share my thought process and plan, and in a year, I'll either be proud of myself or have a good laugh. 😂
On gaining conviction
I started my journey by contemplating a question: Should I raise funding?
The question started when I showed my husband my initial prototype, and he encouraged me to raise capital. Then two other people the same week prompted me to take the leap. Taking on funding is scary: it transforms something from a project of passion to one of commitment. VC backing can put you on a fast track to 10x, and it's hard to escape that pressure to commercialize.
I started to put together a pitch deck. I quickly realized that if I wanted to maximize my negotiating power, I needed more leverage. I have a working prototype, but who wants it? Could I drum up an interest list? I could probably get funding with my background, but would it be terms I'd like? A couple of friends indicated that doing a pre-seed round would be beneficial (my project is pre-revenue, and Seed → Series A is usually about building revenue). Others said that their most valuable investors were angel investors and I should consider an angel-only round. Another camp of advisors has suggested bootstrapping.
But these are all tactics, and I realized that answering tactics was a red herring. Gaining conviction is part logic and part emotion. At the end of the day, I gained conviction through a thing I call "The Imagination Test." It goes like this: What does success look like to you in 2 years? In 5 years? Not just career milestones, but what would you build? Do the problems you'd solve excite you? Does something beautiful happen in the world if you succeed? Is your imagination in fire imagining this future?
Before Project Fi, Grasshopper, and my time on Google for Education, I had a crystal clear image of what I wanted to build, and I couldn't wait to get started. I feel the same about this project. I see an opportunity to spark children's curiosity and make an Edutainment product that better meets parents' needs.
It's also like the optimal stopping/marriage problem: When have you explored ideas enough to optimize for things you like, even though it's not perfect? It's emotionally safer to keep looking; I can't be wrong if I keep looking.
Over the last three weeks, I decided I'm going to give this project a shot. I gave myself a year to figure out my next step. I could spend the next year exploring, pivoting, and not committing. Or I could go all in on a product I love working on and would love for it to exist. At the end of the year, I'll be proud of myself for giving it a shot and (hopefully) have a cool product to show for it. I'll be prouder than spending a year wondering, "what if I'd given it a fair shot?" Here goes nothing. 🤷♀️🔥
Polishing the prototype
Before asking for signups, I want to ensure I am making the most of it. I need to capture interest (Framer page + Mailchimp email marketing), I want to polish up the style (hiring an hourly front-end developer from Toptal and getting some illustrations from Fiverr), I want to address my top feedback around latency and reliability (pre-fetching) and add in just a little something to build a bit of a user habit.
Light business model validation
Before diving in, it's important to make sure this product has a chance of generating revenue. Two good categories of questions to answer here are:
What pain point are you trying to solve? Is it painful enough that people will pay?
Who are other people playing in the space? Can you displace their dollars and/or replicate their customer acquisition model?
I'll admit my excitement to enter this space is more emotional than practical. But upon some reflection, the problem I want to solve is current Edutainment tools don't seem to spark or cultivate curiosity. Watching my daughter with these apps, I see her brain shutting off, even though it's "fun." I think people would be willing to pay for an Edutainment tool that doesn't cause kids to turn off their brains. I think I could displace the dollars spent on these apps (primarily subscriptions). Still, I am also aware of actual user acquisition costs in this space and the level of investment needed to offer feature parity (like branded content, splashiness, and offline mode). Are these challenges insurmountable? I'll find out.
The last thing I am doing to prepare for internet strangers is lawyering and banking up. Back in Jan, I made an LLC with Better Legal (although I have vague feelings I should have gone with Stripe Atlas). I've hired Goodwin to draft up some Terms of Service. I've also placed a "seed investment" into a bank account at Mercury.
In my next update, I hope to share more details and a link for an early testing program. To set expectations, I'll be metering out access to create user cohorts. I can't wait to share more with you all! ❤️