It was March 2012, I was working on Boddy Music for the Microsoft Imagine Cup competition, when one of my friends introduced me to some guys that were looking for a developer to build a MVP for an idea they had.
At first, we talked a lot about their idea – after signing an NDA of course! They had a prototype built-in Excel. Yes, in Excel! So after a few days of talking about what would be possible for the system and so on, they offered me to be part of their founding team.
Tinder wasn’t so popular back then. They had actually just started that year. Our idea was to allow a group of travelers to find and match with other groups in different cities across the blog. For example, four guys traveling to Barcelona could connect and match with four girls also traveling to Barcelona.
Our idea was to show the top 10 places (bars/pubs/discos) to go out in every city. So on the main screen, you could see the whole group’s activity and the different places you could go to.
The product should be 100% free for users, and also allow them to buy food and drink in advance. This meant that when they’d have a table with their beverages when they arrived at their destination. In effect, the app allowed you to reserve a table.
But, if you bought something at the location, you would be listed higher in the app. So, if you and your friends bought a lot in the place you decided to go, you would be first on the list. This meant you’d have more chance to match with another group of guys or girls.
I really liked this idea. We had big ambitions for the project. In the very first days of developing the app, we had the idea to launch globally in more than 500 cities. Then we figured out that it was going to be really, really hard to do that since we’d need to get an agreement with every single place that we listed on the app.
During this process, I was working as a CTO and the solo developer on the app. I didn’t know about Lean Startup methodology at that point in my life. So I was working really hard to try to have a perfect product with lots of features. I was a UI designer, UX tester, and DevOps. As many of you know, in the early days of a project you need to wear so many hats in order to survive.
After a few months of hard work, we finally had an MVP up and running. The backend of project was crafted in PHP using a very unpopular framework called li3. Although, I actually really liked that framework! For the front-end we used vanilla JS with jQuery. Thanks to my previous work in a Microsoft competition, I had a lot of money in credits for Azure. This meant that all of the infrastructure was hosted on Azure during the early days of the product.
We didn’t have a composer at that time. So, handling dependencies was a really manual process. I had to download and past the dependencies directly into a folder called _sources.
A few days after launching we had a chance to apply for an accelerator and pitch our product to them. It was a very simple presentation; about 5 slides talking about the problem, solution and business model. They really liked it and offered around $25.000 USD for 15% of the company. This was around September 2012. We decided to reject it because they wanted to take a big bite of the project, and for us it seemed to be a bad deal.
I was working full-time on this project after finishing with Boddy Music. I was working part-time for the first three or four months, then I moved to a full-time position without being paid at all. One of the co-founders decided to leave the project to focus on other stuff. So in the middle of October 2012, we were a company operated by two people.
We start to lose our faith and hope in the project because we didn’t see any positive results. After launching, we got featured on BetaList and we got around 250 new signups in a day. Having customers was great because they helped us to do the product-market-fit. But at that time we didn’t have any agreement with the listed places inside the app.
After not touching a single line of code for around three months I decided to refactor and start working again. I was alone at this stage. From March to April I dedicated a lot of time to improving what I considered to now be a useless product without a single active user.
It was a really important lesson for me. I spent a lot of my time working on this project. First of all, I tried to have the perfect product with lots of features without even having a clue whether anybody wanted it.
Second, it was not my idea, but I ended working much more than my co-founders. They had a source of income (they had jobs) and they had to be in their offices at least 8 hours of the day. So, when they worked on the project it would only be around 2 or 3 hours per weekday. I don’t regret this, and above all, I don’t blame them. It was my choice to work on the project and put a lot of effort into it.
Thirdly, until this point, I didn’t have an idea about how the finances worked for a small company. We didn’t raise any capital nor did we inject any capital into the company. Although, Agustin, my co-founder, was really good with numbers and had a Ph.D. in finance and also worked in an investment bank.
Fourthly and finally, I didn’t know about the Lean Startup book as I mentioned previously. But I had a similar experience. After reading the book, this point makes much more sense for me. I learned to try to reach the same result without doing the whole process myself, and also to try and validate my idea or product before getting deep into the development of the product.