Before I launched Synotate I dreamt that it would be a home run right out of the gate. I blindly led myself to believe that the problems faced by myself and other marketers would be solved by the product I worked on for two years, but I was wrong. “Reality hit me fast” is the best way to summarize the four months since releasing the product to the public. The product has not been an immediate success, but I’m not by any means disappointed by the progress I have made and I want to share the important lessons I have learned so far.
- Don’t take forever to test your hypothesis - I have always been someone driven to work as hard as I can, regardless of the odds stacked against me, but this attitude is both a gift and a curse. It is good to have this drive when starting a business, but it is also what drove me to spend way too much time building a product, when I really should have asked more questions and built a tool with simple features. While I feel like v1 is my MVP, I now know that I launched too late and should have tested my primary hypothesis a lot earlier on in development.
- Your aspirations can make you lose sight of the initial purpose - As teams grow and people leave, there is a knowledge gap which makes it hard for organizations to understand historical trends in data. Synotate was built to solve this problem by acting as a central repository for data annotations, files and links, but it quickly went beyond this general idea after I added a data analysis management tool and advanced tagging and categorization systems. I spent too much time on features typically found in mature products and not on testing the core solution. Keep it simple and focus on the feature that was the initial solution.
- Appreciate pre-launch struggles - The past two years of work on this product have been life changing. My background is in analytics and marketing, but this project forced me to become a developer. I went from an average Node.js developer to writing a full featured application with confidence and learning both DevOps (AWS/Digital Ocean) and ReactJS along the way (Nerd alert: excited to share a tutorial about reverse proxying a server to serve files from a sub-directory). If I didn’t push myself to pursue this project, I would have never advanced my technical abilities and skill sets that can evolve my career and help me build products faster and cheaper. Outside of this development, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and proved to myself that I can build a functional web application.
- Listen to what the experts have to say - This is my second crack at starting an online business and despite learning from my mistakes the first time, I started building a new product without listening to the wise advice of successful entrepreneurs and venture capitalists on what to do before launching. If I had been more willing to do customer research and pester people with research questions, then I could have launched and evaluated my product sooner than the two years I spent on it.
- Find a co-founder - When I started development on this project, I thought I could do it all by myself, but immediately after launch I went from just development tasks to having a ton of jobs. While some companies have been successfully run by one person, this project is not one that will see success without the additional help. I am more likely to burnout than succeed if I don’t have another technical partner and I’m glad I realized that.
- It’s a side project, not a venture-backed business - I beat myself up over the embarrassing early results because I had so many dreams of success throughout the development process. It is a tool that hasn’t received public acceptance, but it is seeing adoption within my company, which is something I should be proud about. This is a side project that has found utility for some users and I shouldn’t be worried about answering “how can I scale?” Maybe the current product will not be the solution that will be a tech rocketship, but I’m finally satisfied with the progress I have made so far!
What does all of this mean? I made a ton of mistakes and at one point felt a bit defeated and drained, but I finally got the lesson that I feel like I needed to in order to be a successful entrepreneur. Whether or not Synotate reaches the level of success I had initially dreamt doesn’t matter to me, I will remember to always think about this experience and what I have learned. I am still working on Synotate and have faith in it, but clearly I have a lot of work to do and decisions to make. If you want to follow along on my journey, then you can read related posts within the “Founder Story” tag.