Startup life #1


The main reason why I have not been able to write is my full immersion into the startup life, beginning around April 2014.

Before that, I’d just dropped out and was trying to learn and absorb as much as I could, without a seeming direction. From operating systems to embedded technologies, I was skipping from topic to topic, trying to find direction and looking for something that would “stick”, before I finally kind of managed to settle on systems architecture and server-side development as a “niche”. I think I quite envy people who have “stumbled” upon their “calling” without having gone through that painful process.

Anyway, back to startups.

Around April 2014, I had joined Steven and Shaamiel who were building MyDoorHandle, at the time at Startup Garage in Woodstock Exchange.

MyDoorHandle was a software project aimed at democratizing the game of geo-referencing by allowing people to assign names to locations and share those with friends. It was my maiden voyage in terms of working on code that was going to go out into the market. I was super nervous.

I recall the project having 2 stumbling points, monetization strategy and adoption. As time progressed, these motivated the team to seriously consider a pivot.

Fast forward a few weeks, all forces were focused on one endeavor: pushing out an alternative product, Folr. Folr was a more revenue-driven project, which used some of the same technology as MyDoorHandle and which was built by the same team. When I joined, it was already in the works, however not as the main focus.

As time progressed, Steven and Shaamiel decided to switch to Folr as plan A. I mostly did research on how to implement certain features in the Android application and performed tests. Steven took care of the server and API, while Shaamiel’s baby was the website.

The model was: we’d let fleet / mobile personnel owners and managers download the app, sign up and share it with their staff. Thereafter, they would be able to track the people and assets in very-damn-near real time as those moved about. There was an option to establish a “ring fence”, which, if crossed by a tracked person or vehicle, would alert the admin.

There was a feature to replay the motion, given a starting point in time - it even included all the stops and how much time the person spent there.

It was a pretty cool app, and we had not seen too many alternatives which accomplished what our app did, or not as comprehensively. We took it to several meter taxi companies and there was a fair amount of interest.

Then, the business model changed. As it turned out, one of Folr’s investors had insisted on pivoting to a “family-centric” service (in his words, the easiest money would come from “jealous housewives in their late thirties who want to see what their husbands have been up to” - go figure). With that on the table, we were forced to drop all the leads in the taxi industry (several of which later went on to build their own solutions which accomplished similar results to what we were originally offering). At this point the product was being rebranded quite aggressively.

That process wasn’t allowed to finish, either. About a month after we started transforming the features into something that could be useful to a jealous 39 year old housewife and changing the look and feel, the investor broke some more news, this time in person: there was a team in Singapore which was going to take over certain parts of the development, and the work we had done till then was basically to be
thrown out.

Needless to say, tensions rose as that situation developed; servers got rewritten, APIs redesigned, and our beloved orange UIs and branding were replaced with considerably slicker and much purpler alternatives.

This was an intense time, we (especially Steven), sometimes worked around the clock in order to achieve the results.

Some time after that, we got involved in a brand new project - one I am still busy with now. More on this later.