How Jason and the LAUNCH Incubator helped us pivot to a better company

About a year ago, Josh and I started working on a real-time chat platform. Chat is hard, and no one was doing both an affordable and accessible job of making chat easy to put in every app. It would utilize Elixir because of its ability to handle scale, and would be faster/cheaper/better than everything else out there.

At the time I was working for @Jason on Inside.com, and began transitioning out to work on our new chat platform full time. We were accepted into the Fall 2015 LAUNCH Incubator class. We had early customers who were ready to use our platform, the code was shaping up nicely, we were starting to get traction with our pitch. Entrepreneurs and those working on new apps were hungry for it, so we knew the market was big and growing. Things were going great!

But this isn’t a story about a chat platform, this is a story about how and why we had to pivot, and how both Jason and the LAUNCH team helped us do that.

In December of 2015 Twilio launched their IP Messaging Product. They beat our price point and they beat our hosting infrastructure. They had an established enterprise sales team, their product was 12 months ahead of ours, and developers already know & love Twilio. Not to mention their recent huge funding round. After playing with their offering some, it was clear that it was very good and they would own the market. Ouch.

In Minford’s translation of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, he said in the manuvering book, verse 33:

Do not advance uphill, Do not oppose an enemy, with his back to a hill.

Twilio’s back was at the hill, we were advancing uphill against a much stronger force with no hope of drawing them onto the level ground. Our messaging platform was done.

We spoke with Jason the next day and showed him what we found. He gave us great advice (loosely quoted):

Wait a week. Don’t do anything different, spend time researching, and don’t make any quick decisions.

We pitched that night at the Incubator, and spent the next few days researching per his advice. We found that our initial feelings were right, and started looking for a pivot. Josh had been working on ElixirSips for a couple of years, and we both had spent a lot of time training new developers so one evening DailyDrip was born during a late night walking & brainstorm session at the SF Marina Green.

The next week we sat down with Jason, went through our research, and showed him both why we felt we needed to pivot (backed up by numbers) along with our idea. Having a great media background, and having done an educational pivot of Mahalo (Learn Anything), Jason loved it. The wheels were in motion, with the support of Jason and the Incubator.

In just a few weeks, we got a lot done:

  • The incubator helped us find a name and offered to help us with a premium domain name (though DailyDrip ended up testing better for our use).
  • The quick (weekly) feedback from investors made it possible for us to iterate faster than you’d believe possible.
  • They helped us craft our public messaging, as well as our investment pitch and deck.
  • The Launch team checked over our recording setups to make sure we were building out the best possible studios at a reasonable price.
  • Our legal team at WSGR (an introduction made by the incubator) helped us get the paperwork sorted out.
  • We got great feedback on the importance of our international sales. A visiting investor mentioned his concerns about how we needed to target internationally more. If we were tracking that statistic, we would have known we actually had 57% of our existing users outside of the US. Questions like this every week kept giving us great new metrics to track.
  • We were introduced to many people in the education market who had great advice on how to target the proper markets, and what the sales cycle will look like.

So where did that leave us? I’m super happy for Twilio. Adding IP, Voice, and Video messaging to their platform was a brilliant move, and they implemented it well. I’m happy for the community that has the ability to more easily put chat-type things into their projects.

I’m more happy for us though. While we would have done very well as a messaging platform, both Josh and I are even more passionate about education. We are both lifelong learners, and have a deep internal commitment to help others learn. With the help of Jason and the LAUNCH incubator we absolutely ended up on the right project at the right time.