My first venture was acquired at a valuation of USD 100 million, and I as the Founder CEO and my Series A and B round investors exited the venture very profitably.
As an ‘experienced entrepreneur’, I expected my second venture to work out easier and faster, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. I soon realized that the only good thing going for me, like it was when I first started, was that I was still hungry and foolish!
We hit our first-1000-customers milestone recently. With the collective experience of us cofounders, it should have been a walk in the park! But no, Houm is a very unique concept, and we faced every possible challenge and some micro successes along the way. Here’s an account of that journey so far, with much more to go. I am sure some of you would relate to this.
Starting up was easy. I pitched the idea to my inner circle and found that it resonated with them as it did with me. Along the early part of journey, Siddharth, Smita and Priya got to believe in this revolutionary internet product enough to drop everything and join me as my cofounders. All four of us had worked together in the past. We work closely looking at all facets, tech, distribution, funding, strategy and what not! But, once we had the basic pillars of Houm up and functioning, we had to expand the team.
I think it’s incredibly important to keep hiring people smarter than you and keep listening to others around you. It was always hard to find and build the first team who are as passionate as us cofounders towards Data Privacy. Making the wrong decision is not only stressful but also risky for the development of the product, culture and the company. I think we got a lot of them right.
We take our time finding the right fit, not just with skills but also with the attitude. End of the day we spend more time at work than at home, so everyone must really resonate at the same frequency! We are a team of 18 now!
Just as we built a team and the momentum was picking up, we were struck by Covid-19. We have always worked best with the team around us – late nights, coffee, etc. The dynamics of working together under a single roof is something I cannot explain in words. We had recruits who had just joined us, who knew nothing about the product or the team. Covid-19 forced us into working remotely, and this was not easy! Setting up infra, orienting new team members, getting the team dynamics right… all took time. It took a toll on our productivity in the initial days, but together we were able to put it back and better! Also, ours being a completely digital product helped get back to speed fast.
We still haven't gotten back to being under the same roof with late nights, coffee, and are still working remotely distributed. I am sure some of you would have similar stories to tell!
I’m extremely passionate about this product because of its potential for positive impact. When something doesn’t go the way you expect it to go, you start thinking about all the things you could have done differently. The pressure of doing it right first is always on. But I realized that all I can do is to give my 100% and do the best that I can do.
You can't make everyone happy always – including yourself!
Many people are involved and are invested in houm. Not just the team behind Houm, but all our beta testers, our first customers, we all are committed to this revolution. Making everything happy is the right thing to do. But the truth is, it’s not humanly possible to appease everyone. Sometimes, you may have to say ‘no’ or be the bearer of bad news. Some users might just not like the features already there or may have a thousand ideas to improve the app – and we’d need to prioritize. This is the story of every product journey.
So, I have to learn and practice that ‘I can’t make everyone happy’. It’s incredibly hard and I still face this challenge every day, but there’s just no other way. We can only try to be the best version of ourselves and hope that our values resonate with the people around us.
There’s no defined protocol on what a leader has to do in every situation. A copy-paste of what others do almost never work. Every business is unique! We always have to think, ‘How can we do something better for our users today?" We have to trust our guts and take action.
I learned that giving ownership to the team, and letting them handle situations on their own is critical to creating a cohesive and powerful team. What do you feel about it?
Assumptions hurt, not just us but the business too! We have to validate before we spend money on something! This is especially true in the case of bootstrapped start-ups like us. If we have a hypothesis about something, it is good to pause for a while and try validating the hypothesis. We gotta run it by the people we trust, get perspectives, really think it through and take a call. Now, this brings me to the next challenge, "whom should you listen to?"
Listening to the wrong voice
Everyone out there has an opinion. Some would be valid but some is just noise. So it would be wise to be picky about who you pay heed to. It would be better to surround ourselves with people who are just as driven as us, but also willing to be honest to tell it as it is when needed.
Educating and getting initial bunch of customers
No one believed that "Digital Data Privacy" and "Data Ownership" were problems that can be solved. Since Houm is a concept that not everyone easily understands quickly, even though it’s an absolute necessity, one of our biggest challenges has been educating consumers of the need for data ownership. In fact, even before educating the need for data ownership, we had to explain what is data ownership. People had and have really forgotten that all this data they create and deal with is theirs and there must be a way to have this data with them and in their control.
Getting initial customers for an innovative product concept is really a challenge unless you offer that product/service for a free trial. But I believe nothing works better than a quality product. It leads to more qualified customers in the long run. We got our first 1000 customers recently.
Do check about it here to know how we did it https://www.indiehackers.com/product/houm/we-hit-our-first-1000-user-milestone-today--MY5tm4t1s9F1MRkJG_9?utm_campaign=forum-notification&utm_medium=email&utm_source=indie-hackers-emails .
I’ll share more about our challenges educating early users in my upcoming posts.