I did a many things right. It may not seem like it from my other essays, but that’s because I’m especially hard on myself and want to make sure I learn from my mistakes. Here are a few things I did right.
Starting with a key insight
I started Bloon with an insight: organizers and invitees both want a critical mass for social activities. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that that’s something that can’t be immediately solved. You have to solve some other problem first and then fall into this (similar to Facebook and Facebook events). I still believe that having a critical mass can be helpful in organizing group activities, but it will either be a feature of a messaging company like Whatsapp, or it’ll be a part of solving bigger problem like Crowdtilt (splitting costs).
User experience for invitees
The experience for people who were invited to Bloons via SMS was great. I understood the motivations of invitees because that’s what I can personally relate to (vs. being an organizer). It was really easy for people invited to join - they just had to text back ‘y’. And if the activity took off, then they’d automatically be notified and be put into a group text. They didn’t even have to go to bloon.us to sign up to be invited and be using Bloon. The experience is integrated with how users already communicate (through SMS), so they don’t have to download a new app or go through a website.
Not investing in a native mobile app
Even though a native mobile app would have been helpful, I didn’t invest in building one. I’m glad I didn’t because from what I’ve learned, I’m confident that Bloon would not work as a native app. Yes, it would have significantly lowered the barrier to inviting friends, but Bloon’s value proposition still isn’t great enough that users would use Bloon.
I kept all the coding inhouse. If I wanted to make a change, I could make it right away. If I wanted to test something out, I could make that happen. I wasn’t dependent on a 3rd party.
Not raising money
I spent half a year working on Bloon on my own dime. I’m glad I didn’t raise any money because (1) I would not have made investors money, (2) it would have put unnecessary pressure to keep working on something that just wasn’t working to work, and (3) I would be wasting my own time working on this longer than I should. I believe that you shouldn’t raise money unless you have data showing your company is taking off, and your business is suitable for venture capital.
Doing product management / development the right way
I took a step back from Bloon for a few months and tried to figure out what the best way to solve the initial problem (make it easier to organize activities with friends), starting with a blank slate. I went through the iterative process: talk to organizers, understand their problems, prototype, test, get feedback, draw conclusions, and go back to the drawing board. I built and tested many completely different mockups that attacked the problem at different angles. In the end, I didn’t find any one solution worth pursuing.
Most importantly, I learned that it’s okay to take a risk and fail. It’s humbling, but I’ve learned so much from my experience that I think it was worth it. It’s fine to take risks and end up failing. You don’t get anywhere in life without taking risks.