Reflections on start-up life: Week 35

How do you keep going when confronted with cresting the top of a hill to achieve a goal and only to realise that there is another bigger hill in front of you again?

The crest this week was pushing out the latest release of Tribalytic. This was the major focus of our efforts last week. While we will probably always be in continual “beta” and pushing new features, this represents internally at least “Version 1”. It’s the version that’s the most polished. No longer is it a product without a wrapper, but it’s polished, wrapped up and ready to put on the shelf.

Ah ha! And there is the next hill. How to get it to the shelf?

Of course I never thought it would “stop” once we pushed the latest release. The way to manage the continual hills is to realise that it’s OK to take a breather. Running a marathon like a sprint is always a bad idea.

Of course a start-ups definition of a breather might be a little different from others! Alex spent a good portion of his Friday night doing maintenance on the servers in what we hope will become a regular “Sysop Friday Fortnight”. Think of it like a massage for an athlete. The servers had become scary for a number of different reasons, but primarily because one of them had been up continually for 213 days, the other 168 days and we KNEW that if we rebooted, at least one of them would not restart without physical intervention.

Given our servers are in the US, physical intervention in this instance means logging a help desk call and waiting for the hosting guys in LA to get into the data centre and resolve the issue.

While the focus has been on getting the product up and out the door, we’d left a lot of server maintenance activities aside — after all with no product, there’d be nothing to maintain, but as we’ve acquired a few customers it’s become more critical that we have control over the hardware and know it will come back if it goes down.

It turns out neither server came back from the reboot (for technically inclined, they were looking for a splash screen image they couldn’t find and wanted a keypress!), but the hosting centre was on the ball and because we’d planned the outage, there was no customer impact. Now we have them behaving properly and have also cleaned up a lot of old software etc. meaning that we dedicate more of our resource to running Tribalytic.

On the customer front, some of the networking activity over the last few weeks paid off in terms of meetings that have lead to some introductions which is always handy. This segues nicely back to getting the product on the shelf. We’ve achieved some significant milestones — 1st customer, first 5 customers and now a recurring customer with the first customer we had (that we thought we’d lost) returning to re-subscribe for another month. The defining feature of all these however is they are relationship style sales. People are buying because they know me and have met me. It’s not yet scaleable.

This is a classic start-up problem. Having proven that the product is minimally viable (some people will purchase it) and wrappered it for the shelf, we need to get it there. Given our business model, we need more people than just I can meet using Tribalytic for us to be successful. So the next major focus is on search and content optimisation — making sure that when people look for products like ours or for solutions to problems that we can solve, we have a presence.

So how do you keep going? I guess it’s knowing that it doesn’t end. Always be prepared for the next hill. If you’re climbing the mountain, it’s realising that there a lot of foot hills along the way that you haven’t seen yet and when you finally get to the top, there will be more mountains to climb. For me it’s actually part of what this blog is about, it encourages me to stop, take a breather and look back down at the view — there may still be many mountains to go, but I think we’ve already climbed a few too.


  • Pushing the major new version.
  • A resubscribing customer.
  • Very enjoyable conversations with several knowledgeable people in the Market Research and Retail industries.

Lessons Learnt

  • Complexity kills. If you’re a startup, I can’t reiterate this enough. Complexity kills. Don’t go there before you have to. I think that we are about right, however consider that the current release pushed us from:
  • 3 screens to around 10, only 1 of which delivered substantial new functionality, the others are things like Pricing, Terms, Privacy policy etc.
  • Now four “modes” of interaction with our system (anonymous user, trial user, paid user, expired user)
  • Combined, this all means testing of a new release is SIGNIFICANTLY more complex than it has been previously.
  • I don’t think this changes what we do that much, but it’s something to keep an eye out for — if you push features too fast, your product will become more complex than your ability to maintain it very quickly.

Goal this week — Customers

  • Keep setting up meetings and trying to close some of the expressed interest.
  • Start the inbound activities (blogging etc.) to help customers find us themselves.

Goal this week — Development

  • SEO
  • Reports
  • Start crawling again — it’s clear that more Australian users is of high value to our customers, performance issues have stabilized and latest release is out, so let’s go get them!