(Editor’s note: VentureBeat hadn’t heard from Silicon Valley start-up Bunchball in a while, so we asked CEO Rajat Paharia to tell us what it is like out there on the front lines. Here’s his report.)
In January 2005, I left my job with no idea what I was going to do next. I talked to a lot of smart people at startups and in venture capital, and they all said that if I had an idea, I should just start building something. You didn’t need to raise money first (I tried this one unsuccessfully myself back in 2000, just me and PowerPoint), one guy at home coding in his pajamas could create and grow a successful web business on a shoestring budget. It was the golden age of Flickr, Six Apart and Delicious!
Just Do It
I brainstormed with a friend for a week or two and we settled on an idea and started building it. The spec and design were changing on a daily basis, and some of our engineers hated this, but we needed the “tangibility” of working prototypes to help us see where the product should go next and opportunities that we had missed in our initial thinking. One of my favorite quotes from my time at the design firm IDEO was “Builders Think Better”. People who build are better designers, because the experience of getting your hands dirty and making something real inevitably leads to problem spaces, insights and opportunities that people who don’t get past specs and slide decks will never understand.
At the same time that we were starting Bunchball I was talking to another very early stage startup that seemed to be permanently stuck thinking and talking and trying to raise money • they never seemed to be able to get over the hump and just start building, and instead seemed really enamored with the process and being “entrepreneurs”. They’re not around anymore.
Eat Your Vegetables
The first version of our product had a desktop client. Smart people kept telling me that it needed to be completely web-based, and my instant reaction was always that they just didn’t get it, and I was going to explain to them why it was so important to do it the way we had. And at the time that we’d started, it had been important. But even as our product vision had evolved, our legacy decisions and underlying assumptions about what we were building hadn’t. We were so deep in the trees that we couldn’t see the forest anymore, and it was driving us down the wrong path. It’s critical to force yourself, every so often, to stop, step back, and question everything that you’re doing. And even though it hurts to change course, to throw away code (we’ve thrown away more than we have left), to abandon an initiative that you totally believed in 3 months ago, if it’s the right thing to do you have to do it. An old manager of mine used to call it “eating your vegetables”.
Over the course of the next two years we ate a lot of vegetables. We’d launch something, sure that this time it would be a huge success, only to see it flatline. As you can imagine, this was incredibly depressing. But every time, someone outside the company would see what we had launched and ask us a question, something we hadn’t thought of, that never would’ve been asked if we hadn’t launched something that people could react to, that would get us out of the trees and seeing exciting new opportunities. And with renewed hope and inspiration, we’d start building again.
Major iteration #4 was the one that finally stuck, the one that enabled us to paint a compelling picture of a large opportunity space, and the one that enabled us to raise a venture round. And that was because we didn’t only rebuild the product, but also the entire business model…
(We hope to have Rajat back soon to give us the next installment about Bunchball’s development)