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How to Destroy a Tech Startup in 3 Easy Steps

ISBN: 0998997617
   Available on Amazon

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I've a similar story.

May of 2015: hired at startup that wants to use Natural Language Processing so salespeople can send text messages directly to their CRM (Salesforce, PipeDrive, etc). Very excited about the project. The app's initial UI design is a traditional one, with NLP helping to smooth the basic task. The full app would take about a year to build but we all agreed we could have an MVP by August.

August of 2015: without consulting anyone on the tech team, the Board Of Directors decides the app should get rid of all standard UI elements: no forms, no buttons, no links, no drop down menus. Instead, the interface should be a pure chat app. This makes the project much more ambitious, which I was very excited about, but which I felt would delay the project 2 or 3 months. Nobody was happy with my estimate.

September of 2015: the CEO was able to show a demo to the Board Of Directors. The demo was an illusion, as we had no error handling, and it only worked for some carefully planned examples, but I thought it was a good sign that we could show the Board that we were making progress. Unknown to me, the Board then asked the CEO for real feedback from real customers at the next meeting, a month later, in October. There was no possible way for us to finish the product, and find customers, and get feedback, all in a month, but the CEO was a bit of a coward, so he promised the Board we would do this.

October of 2015: obviously we did not have customer feedback by the next meeting of the Board. At this point the Board decides we have missed our schedule and they begin to panic. We are slowed by the fact that our "NLP expert" is inexperienced. Myself and our iPhone programmer tell management that we need to fire the current NLP guy and hire someone with real experience. Management initially agrees but then later changes its mind, for reasons unstated.

November of 2015: we get a basic demo working, and it has enough error checking that we can show it to potential customers, and not be entirely embarrassed. But the stress of the previous month has wrecked relationships inside the company, people are shouting at each other constantly. At this point I step away from the project, but I remain on friendly terms with the guy who is doing the iPhone programming.

January of 2016: company gets two trial customers, but these customers won't pay for the product. The NLP engine is improving, but at glacial speed, as the "NLP expert" is at the beginning of his career. He was a nice person, and I can believe he will eventually become a good programmer, but it didn't make sense that a company that wanted to move fast also remained so loyal to a guy who could not do what was needed. An established company could/should afford to have an apprenticeship program, but a fast moving startup can not offer an apprenticeship to someone working on a core technology.

April of 2016: the iPhone guy again asks management to find a new NLP expert, someone who can move the company forward. Management reacts by listing every bug ever discovered in the iPhone app, as a way of telling the iPhone guy to shut up.

May of 2016: the iPhone programmer quits and gets a job elsewhere.

June of 2016: the company is almost out of money, so it cuts back on spending, reduces the team.

summer and autumn of 2016: without much staff, the company crawls along at a glacial pace

Early 2017: the company gets more funding, begins moving forward again.

Summer of 2017: the company now has a few trial customers, but they are paying trial rates, which is to say, almost nothing. The company is not anywhere close to the breakeven point.

The company continues to burn money without making much progress. There are clearly some fundamental leadership issues that should be addressed, and one of those are the ways that estimates and budgets are created. Also, the company would be in much better shape if the leadership listened to feedback from the tech team.

I wrote about all of this in detail here:

https://www.amazon.com/Destroy-Tech-Startup-Easy-Steps/dp/09...


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