Closing the gap between a big mission and a viable product.

For 20 years, I’ve been building other people’s dreams.

I’ve build a career on making other people’s products; we converted more of your customers, we made your workflows more efficient… For 20 years, that’s what we did.

So, pivoting the team, after all that time, to building something of our own is a super, super-scary prospect.

It’s not scary because of the technical challenges ahead, though they are huge.
It’s not scary for all the new skills we need to learn, though they are many.

It’s scary because for the first time I am are responsible for the “mission”.

The mountain: A mission worth the risk.

We are on a mission to fix the news — because it’s utterly broken.

If we have to live in ideological democracies¹, where we vote people into power because they promise to uphold our social ideals, then we absolutely need a news industry which takes seriously its responsibility to hold those politicians to account.

As it stands our news industry is existentially distracted; locked in a fight for our attention — in some cases, a fight to the death.

So I have set out to build a news platform that does away with the attention economics that is driving so many newspapers into the gutter, that pays for quality not quantity, that gives you the reader a clear understanding of what’s actually going on in the world and that gives you a diverse range of opinionated, thoughtful journalism from which your world view can flourish.

I realise I’m pissing in the wind… but I believe it’s a mission worth the risk.

The mirage: Mission validation

Now it turns out that a lot of people recognise the value of the mission.
In fact, the mission resonates with people so much that while we were still not much more than an idea, around 200 people I’ve never met chipped in over £100,000 to get the idea off the ground.

Since then, around 5,000 people have downloaded our apps or registered with us online.

They’ve not registered because our product is awesome — it’s not, yet.

They’ve searched and downloaded and registered because they want our mission to succeed. Because they recognise the need for something better than we all have to put up with at the moment.

Left or right, Conservative or Labour, Republican or Democrat, Red or Blue.

From 86 countries around the world — people do believe in the mission.

The gap: A mission is not a product.

Nevertheless, all is not easy in the life of a startup and this is where the real challenges appear... because a mission is not a product.

We can find folk who recognise the need for something better — but that does not mean that what we have to offer is something that they want… or will pay for.

The gap between selling a mission and selling a product is vast.

Today, in early 2021, we’re at a turning point. For the past two years we’ve been building an idea and selling our mission. It’s been easy to keep those two separate and enjoy the mission validation for what it was.

Now, our product is live.

What you see of OneSub today is the first real glimpse of the actual product we set out to build.

This week we will tell the nearly 4,500 people who came to support our mission, but who haven’t been back in over a month, that our new product is live. They will decide whether the product we’ve build fulfils the mission or not — and if they decide it doesn’t we may never hear from them again.

That is a terrifying thought.

The journey: Validating the product

This is not the end, it’s just the end of the beginning… and this post doesn’t mark where we’ve got to — it marks where we’re starting from.

From today all of our metrics change.

From today we care about our monthly recurring revenue (currently ~£150), about our monthly active users (~400) about our traffic volumes, our churn rates, our conversion rates and our acquisition costs.

I will be honest — I am buoyed by the enthusiasm that the first few hundred “beta” users have shown towards our new product. Enthusiasm shown through the feedback they give us… through their choice to “Go Pro”… and through their gentle habituation to increasingly open our app every day.

But the journey ahead is one of great unknowns.

Converting enthusiasts and evangelists is one thing. This year… this is the year we learn to convert the sceptics and I am looking forward to sharing that journey with you here — pitfalls, slips and all.

We know the mission is an important one. We’d better not let everyone down.

  1. 2

    I'll always remember a discussion I had in ~2008 with a very successful serial founder (several big wins both before and since then) who told me "nothing ruins a good story like numbers."

    It's funny and it's true. He was describing this exact gap, which inevitably happens when you have to switch from selling people on a dream to selling them on a business. As a founder, you have some control over when you try to clear that gap, and you can try to optimize that for the best transition, but the longer you wait, the riskier it becomes.

    I think this is fundamentally stressful in any startup that spends time in "stealth mode". I'm not an absolutist about this, like some people are. I think sometimes it is worth that stress, but you should know that that's part of the deal. You might even consider it as a type of debt. If it allows you to move faster or otherwise increase your odds of success, and the terms are good enough, then go for it with open eyes.

    1. 2

      I love that quote - think I might steal that 🤩...

      ... and I'm so glad to hear that it's kinda "normal" ... if it's a growing pain that lots of other startups experience then it suddenly feels less daunting.

      I'm going to make a real effort to document our progress as we go because it's not a transition I've read much about. Perhaps I'm just not searching for the right thing but if sharing helps anyone then hopefully it's worth it.

      Thanks Matt - you've made a great start to my day. 🙌

  2. 2

    This is so...refreshingly honest. I'm sure the positive feedback from the beta testers is a good sign - fingers crossed for the others!

  3. 1

    I can't register. I got an error. Too bad.

    1. 1

      Yowzers Tim, sorry. 🤦‍♂️ Let me reach out direct and see if I can help.

      1. 1

        I have replied to your email. I have reproduced the error and attached a screen recording to the email.

        1. 1

          You're an absolute superstar Tim, thank you! 🤩

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