September 27, 2019

Lesson learned: I've overcomplicated things

Lizzy Trelstad @LT_Beaker

I started my company with the idea that I could use chemistry to read personal care product ingredient lists for people, and then report back to them what was best for them. Emphasis on "for." I came up with the idea of "chemist curation," and this chatbot was the first tech tool made to help people discover their next favorite products.

I've been closely watching the conversations people have with the Beaker Bot. People seem to like the idea of being matched with a product, but are getting frustrated that they didn't know why they got what they got. I thought them using the chatbot was the same as them opting in to trusting a chemist, and that that was sufficient. I thought I wouldn't need to explain the chemistry, I could just use it.

I was excited by the idea that I could automate and scale a chemist's advice, without worrying the consumer about the nitty gritty chemistry. From feedback and conversations that broke the chatbot flow, I've learned that even if people don't know the nitty gritty, they still want to see it. They don't want a chemist telling them what's best for them, they want a chemist that's telling them what's best for them, to them! My product isn't the end recommendation, it's the process by which I arrive at the recommendation.

With that known, so much of the friction I've been feeling as a non-tech solo founder has disappeared. I don't have to build my expertise into tech, I can simply use my expertise.

I've now decided to release myself from a need to create a "tech product," and have decided that for the next 3 months I will produce as much content as possible. I'm going to do the things that don't scale so that I can build a large and loyal audience. By the end of the year I'm hoping to have an audience that can tell me what they want, instead of betting 3 months' time on creating "tech tools" that get at what I think people want.

I think it's possible to be an innovator while still listening to the market. That's my new hypothesis at least; I used to think that being an innovator meant being ahead of the market. But that's a sure way to make a faulty business model.

Just because I don't yet know exactly how to help my audience, and therefore what scalable product to build for them, doesn't mean I'm not the domain expert that I am. This was an important lesson to learn.

Does this make sense? Or am I just rationalizing my failure to hit upon a scalable product? Any and all pro-tips and advice are very much welcome.

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