Feature: A tough slog

It’s not all fun and games inside social app startup Bumpn. 

In the last print and digital issue of TECHOPIA, editor Stephen Karmazyn introduced readers to local social app startup Bumpn. In this issue, Karmazyn sits down with Bumpn co-founder Moe Abbas for a one-on-one to explore what it’s like to run a mobile app startup. Here is an edited transcript of that chat.

 

TECHOPIA: Take me through what it’s like to run a startup.

 

ABBAS: It’s hard. It takes a lot longer than you think it will. When we first started we thought we’d have a product out in the first three months and we’d get traction and everyone would pick it up. That’s not the reality. The reality is, it takes at least two years to see a semblance of success. Year one is a lot of pain. A lot of ups and downs. Mostly downs. A year and half into it you start understanding the market and where you fit in. I don’t think anybody can launch a company and immediately have product-market fit.

TECHOPIA: How can you tell if you’re on the right path?

ABBAS: You have a hypotheses: this is a good business, people want this thing. You have to go out and test it. Like all things that are tested, you’re going to be right to a certain degree and you’re going to be wrong on a lot of things and you’ve got to learn from that. It’s like a big science experiment; it’s very costly and requires a lot of smart people to get it right. Along the way, you learn more and more about the space and the more you learn the better the product you can make.

TECHOPIA: So what mistakes have you made?

ABBAS: From getting the right co-founder to getting the right idea to capital requirements to building everything right in the company, we made so many mistakes. I would just count the first nine months as a total write-off other than an expensive learning experiment. If you’re doing a startup be prepared for at least two years of runway because that’s how long it’ll take you to figure your shit out. If after two years you don’t know, you should get a job. That’s the maximum range … you gotta figure your shit out. I don’t care if it’s in a brand new industry.

It took three months to launch the first version of Bumpn. It failed. It was more about getting into the space, just move fast. But we learned from that and we did another iteration and another iteration.

TECHOPIA: Success always depends on people. Talk about the HR component of a startup.

ABBAS: We can’t have anyone in the company who isn’t an A or higher player. Even if it’s your co-founder. Especially in engineering. In a tech startup, if you don’t have phenomenal engineers, when you start, you’re going to be in trouble.

You gotta be prepared to put everything aside and completely, obsessively immerse yourself. You need to be thinking about it all the time. You need to have your whole team thinking about it all the time. You have to be willing to sacrifice a lot of things to do a startup.

I had to shelve all my businesses. A million-dollars plus in opportunity costs in order to focus on Bumpn. Not only do you have this opportunity cost, you’re losing money. I burned $500,000 of my own money in the company and you don’t even know if you’re going to succeed.

It’s scary. It’s terrifying. Everyday you gotta wake up sick. Because if you’re not waking up sick, you’re not feeling it.

At the same time you need to understand you can’t be living in an emotional state, you can’t run the company in an emotional state. As long as you’re building a great product that people love, you should be able to succeed. If you have a small niche of people who love your product, that’s more important than a lot of people liking your product.

TECHOPIA: How do you measure your success?

ABBAS: Inside you gotta be questioning everything. You gotta be harsh critic. We’ve changed parts of the application that people love, because it just didn’t work. It wasn’t getting us toward our key business metric. What defines success for you product? For us, it’s daily active users.

Ulitmately, everything you do, you have to ask this one question. How does it get us daily active users? If you can’t answer that question, even though it’s brilliant and amazing, you gotta scrap that. You need to focus on driving that business metric.

TECHOPIA: Is the co-founder no longer with the company?

ABBAS: A lot of great companies, they lose a key member. You realize along the way they’re not really the right fit for your organization.

TECHOPIA: Is there a story behind that?

ABBAS: His engineering chops were not up to par. Number two, there was there was negativity. He’s a decent guy, but I don’t like the way he left. We were running low on cash at the time. The product kept getting delayed and kept having bugs. We hired another engineer whose engineering work was better than the co-founder.

I had to ask him to leave. And I was only able to do that when I was comfortable in the space. That was back in 1.0.

You really gotta make hard decisions, especially when it involves people. We had to release all the fat, bring it down to a small core group of really talented people. What happens is you end up doing things faster.