Week 5 of 13: Building A New Prototype

We don't seem to be going fast enough. ©

We've now burned through five weeks and are quickly approaching the half-way point of the Summer. I'm starting to worry about how much can be accomplished. Everything seems to be taking longer than I anticipated; perhaps I've been too much of an optimist? The change of direction following Week 3 has meant starting from scratch in some areas. While this has slowed us down, I still believe this was the right thing to do. We now have a clearer idea of what it is we are building. We now also have a clearer idea of who we are looking to sell to.

During the early part of the Summer, we completed a prototype that an undergraduate software engineering class had started during Spring quarter. This is the prototype that we then showed to prospects during Week 3. Following the change in direction, we are now working on building a new prototype for the product we are now building.

However, progress on building this second prototype has been slower than I've expected. This is partly because we've switched to a new programming language - Ruby. The switch has come about because we think we'll be better able to reduce some overheads by leveraging the the Rails framework and targeting EngineYard as an deployment platform. While I say that we're working on a new "prototype", it is looking likely what we're building now is going to be the final product: we're not going to have time for too many more changes.

On the customer side, the target segment for the product we are now producing is very specific - much more specific than the previous target of "R&D labs". Because of all the interviews with potential clients that we completed, we now know the size of company that our product might be most attractive to: medium sized of around 100 to 500 employees. We even know the rough job titles of the type of person in the R&D labs who would buy the product. This kind specificity means we can tailor the product very specifically to our audience. However, it also means that finding these target customers is difficult: it's not like I can buy an address book listing these people. I spent the early part of the past week searching through LinkedIn for these types, with no success. I'm going to quickly have to find new years to determine leads.

This is also a personal journey, where I'm constantly learning "on the job". I feel I am always pushing to do what needs to be done, as opposed to what I am accustomed to doing. I also find myself asking whether I'm going about all this the right way. Am I presenting this business persuasively enough? Should I be "selling" to this person, or seeking their advice? Through all this, I sometimes hear echoes in my mind of things I've heard from VCs, from my internship with one last summer, as well as from meeting them on treks and elsewhere. For example, I recall from the winter trek, "the VC invests in people who they think can solve the problem in the area, not in a specific business plan". Only now do I really know what this means.

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