Living life in fast-forward
Startups are like living life in fast-forward.
Before I started a company, my life already seemed to be moving fairly quickly. I like change, and there has been no shortage of it in my life. But since my team at BuildingLayer was accepted to Betaspring, it feels like life has been moving a bit faster. I think this is a normal thing for today's startupers. In a world where digital trends rise and fall in a matter of weeks, you have to move quickly to build an MVP, capture mindshare, and continuously iterate toward product-market fit. And the need for this speed, this focus on only the most important things, has been echoed upon the recent passing of Steve Jobs. While Apple is far from being a startup in terms of age and financial situation, its founder never stopped moving at startup pace.
A few examples of this increased pace:
Where is home? During my life, I've previously experienced relocation at an above normal speed. My family moved every 2-3 years when I was growing up. In the past 6 months, I've spent at least a week living at 6 different residences. Our office has become my only reliable mailing address.
Email volume. My normal email influx for the last 2 years has been about 25-50 emails per day. Now, it's in the 50-100 range. And I'm pretty good about filtering spam (thx, Gmail) and other notification content out of my inbox. I'm now seeing more of these messages, from potential investors, partners, and customers, that also require prompt responses.
Travel. I've traveled enough during the last month to witness Occupy Wall Street protests in 5 cities, but I still don't know what they're protesting. Hopefully it's not the salaries for CEOs of pre-funding startups ;) But I mention this to highlight an element of focus. Someone else could travel to these exact same cities and derive an entirely different value (say, participating in the protests, or seeing all the touristy sights). My focus has been on meeting people who are important to the indoor mapping ecosystem. It's not the location that matters, it's the context.
New People. I've been experiencing an increased rate of meeting new people. While there are some parts of this "life in fast-forward" trend that are of debatable value, I love this part. Every time I'm on a plane, I get to meet at least the one person who is seated next to me. While the long duration of flights make for more in-depth conversations, I also enjoy the brief, surface-level interactions with strangers when using public transit. Yet another reason commuting by car is inferior. More importantly, from a business standpoint, I get to meet the people who matter in my industry. By becoming a player in the game who offers a key component, I get to meet some of the bigger players who can benefit from our work at BuildingLayer. And while I love reaching out to these people, it's amazing now that it is now at the point when people start calling us! The world is truly smaller than I ever thought it was, especially within entrepreneurial circles.
Old People. No, I'm not talking senior-citizens (although the average age of my friend groups has increased disproportionately to my age increase since graduating from college). When life is moving faster, there are more changes to discuss with old friends and family members. And with so much in flux, it feels increasingly important to seize whatever time we can share together. This means more "hey, I'm in town, want to grab coffee/lunch?" interactions. And these times are amazingly fulfilling. I got to have coffee with the pastor from my church yesterday after we shared a connecting flight from Lexington to Washington, D.C. Then I had lunch with a good friend from college, now getting his PhD at MIT. This situation seems to happen most frequently with Team Alpha and Solar Car Team alumni, who are inherently highly-motivated (and now geographically distributed) people.
New ideas. The core idea behind our company has matured significantly over the past two months. What started off as AwesomeTouch, a giant touchscreen interface for city tourism maps, has become BuildingLayer, a crowdsoured map of the indoor world. The process we went through is well illustrated by The Squiggle (even the mathematically invalid movements to the left along the time axis). As we have bounced between the feedback of different advisors, partners, and customers, we are finally closing in on our niche. One piece of advice for teams on this: bouncing around can be incredibly frustrating to your product team. Communicate this up-front, and properly calibrate your team's expectations. I told my team that the months of August and September would be messy, and they were. October is shaping up to be much more linearly productive. We have iterated enough on our idea and gathered enough "if you build this, I will use it" testimonials to feel confident about our chosen direction. Now, it's time to execute.
Even with this increased pace, there is still a long grind before anyone becomes an overnight success. But, to be successful, we must keep moving fervently. Answering emails, meeting new people, refining our core idea, and building new iterations of our product. So here's to all you who are following your passion, and living life in fast-forward. May your work enable others to soak up life in a more fulfilling way. And thank you to Steve Jobs, who showed quite a few of us how thinking differently, looking at life as a fleeting moment, can help us make the world a better place.