As venture capitalist Ben Horowitz articulated so well in his recent book, it isn’t easy being a startup founder. There are decisions that need to be made that aren’t easy, and can be gut-wrenching.
My co-founder Chad and I found ourselves in that place recently. We have spent the past two years, and millions of dollars, building a product that we thought would significantly change how we exchange data using our mobiles.
We’ve courted investors from around the globe, notched up thousands of app downloads and even chucked in a cheeky launch stunt.
We were also head-deep in onboarding a household name as our first major business client.
But amid meeting after meeting with the world’s largest investment banks, including some of the key figures behind the largest technology IPOs of the last couple of years, we realised something had to change.
The message we were sending to consumers and businesses was confusing, and the product journey was complicated. We faced a chicken-and-egg situation — for consumers to use our product it required businesses to integrate with it. And businesses wanted to see consumers using it before they would integrate. This was difficult to reconcile.
Thankfully, things have changed. Apple’s release last year of iOS 8 for iPhones and iPads let us build our product right into Safari, making our product easier to understand.
The core problem we wanted to solve remains; transacting on your mobile sucks, and as we conduct more of our lives digitally, the number of businesses that have our private and confidential information is growing each day.
So as of this week, we’ve evolved from Pop! to Fillr. With this change, we reckon we’ve solved many of the problems that have plagued us along the way.
We’ve also learned and addressed several important points that changed the way we think about consumer products.
For our chicken-and-egg situation, we chose to put the user first.
We wanted to build a product that solved two problems at once — making mobile forms easier to fill out, and letting consumers update their online data at the tap of a button. But for the latter problem, we needed businesses that would allow us to tap into their customer databases. Those companies were interested, but didn’t want to sign on until they saw users — in effect, we were stuck in a chicken or egg situation.
With Fillr, we’ve stripped that back. We’re now focused purely on the consumer problem from the get go. The business issue will still be there (and we’ll still fix it), but until we have a solid base of users that are readily using our apps, we’re focused on making an experience that consumers want to use daily, first and foremost.
At one stage we had a team of 12 working on two, and sometimes even three, disparate products. We had the consumer product, a back-end product for businesses and a side project, that ultimately became Fillr. It’s unsustainable even for a company much larger than ours, and made it more difficult to sell our product and vision to prospective customers and investors. So we stripped it back, worked out what our key priorities were, and focused on that.
Make your proposition clear.
When we recently reviewed our products and messaging, we realised one thing that appears simple but is incredibly important — our message needed to be crystal clear. Having three products, all of which do something similar but in three distinct ways, made it difficult to explain what we wanted to achieve. With Fillr, we’ve made the story simple — Transacting on your mobile sucks, so we have developed next generation autofill for your mobile.
Stunts won’t help you long-term.
Possibly our most hare-brained idea was the launch stunt we did for Pop! – Pop! the Boss: I agreed to swallow a mini-computer the size of a Hot Wheels car, and ran a competition to get people downloading and signing up to the Pop! app. It got us media headlines and plenty of attention, spurring on thousands of app downloads. At the end of the day, the stunt provided a small spike but no long-term growth potential for the Pop! app.
Once the competition ended, people forgot about us, and we were back to square one. While those small spurts of press that stunts provide are addictive, they are ultimately distractions that will prevent you from meeting your true long-term goal of growing a sustainable business.
Get good advisers, and listen to them.
It is extremely important to be able to take a step back, and look at the business with a fresh set of eyes. When you are so emotionally invested, this can be hard to do. Thankfully, we have a brilliant board of advisers, including the chairman and CEO of carsales.com.au, who always check where we are at. Having those guys there to use as a sounding board, who have seen and done much more than us, helped validate our decision to pivot.
It can be easy to become emotionally invested in your own product and become almost blinded to the notion that anything needs to change. With the right advisers, and the right focus, however, we’ve learned that the change to Fillr needed to happen. And we think we’re on the right path to success.
Chris Koch is the co-founder of Fillr.