This post is not about the U.S. election, although in many ways it is. It’s about what happens in business when you do everything the way you’re supposed to and forces outside your control knock you completely off your game. It’s about rapid pivots and steep learning curves.
I’ve been working on the Happy Couples Bot since May of this year. The idea came to me while helping a friend open up the lines of communication with his significant other. I realized that people in committed couples want to do things that make the other person happy, they just often don’t remember to, or even know what that would be.
Having run a successful happiness brand for the past 3 years, with research heavily focused on brain science, I set about designing a tech product that would solve this problem. I also knew apps were a dying sector, as people don’t want to download anything on their phones anymore, and bots are starting to explode. This gave birth to the Happy Couples Bot. Everyone I described it to got excited. Everyone wanted to be part of the company in some way. More importantly, they all wanted to use the product. Right away. Yesterday.
That’s when I looked in my network for an exceptional developer who might want to come on board as a CTO and Co-founder. Enter Tracy Greene. We hit the ground running and started building both the company and the bot. It was awesome and we were speeding along.
We started exploring funding strategies that included angel investors, VC, equity crowdfunding and rewards-based crowdfunding and decided for strategic reasons to go with the latter while rolling out the beta (which will be early next week), then go to other sources. We knew we could raise enough through Kickstarter to cover our costs and generate excitement.
While neither of us had personally run a Kickstarter campaign before, we both had helped several friends through theirs. Add to that the researcher in me spending days absorbing everything anyone’s written about it, and we had a great plan. We lined up our influencers, contacted friends and family, made numerous videos to release throughout the campaign, worked backwards from the date at which we needed the cash infusion, and put it out there.
We knew November was a risky time for crowdfunding, but we figured we could get ahead of the holiday shopping curve. We also chose to have our biggest push after all of the political campaigns stopped asking for money every day. So we rolled out quietly on November 4th, hitting the 25% mark in the first 24 hours, as planned, and prepared for the following week to be huge.
The Gut Punch
We didn’t anticipate what news the following week would bring. November 9th was the day I was going to send the link to the Kickstarter campaign to my entire mailing list. Instead, I had to write a post about maintaining happiness in the face of unexpected outcomes. The first video that was going to go wide, with all sorts of pre-arranged community support, included me saying, “Now that we have our first female President.” I’m a female CEO of a tech company, a former lawyer, former investment banker, former Hollywood screenwriter. Tracy is a female programmer and active in the LGBT community. You can imagine who makes up most of our networks. Regardless of who you supported in this election, everyone can at least acknowledge that people were reeling. Our tribes were reeling.
It didn’t even take until noon on Wednesday before the first influencer who had agreed to blog and tweet about us sent me a note saying, “You know I can’t do this now, right?” I did know. I understood. Hell, I was trying to figure out how I could still do this without seeming completely tone-deaf to my entire community, and it’s my company.
I knew a man — a friend of a friend — who saved for years to quit his job and start a tourist-based company in New York. He opened his doors on August 1, 2001, and somehow, through sheer force of will, stayed afloat. Believe me, I know there is no comparison. I’m not even trying to say there is. We aren’t in that place, or anywhere close to it, but I take his accomplishment as a huge inspiration. Guess what? Sometimes, things don’t go your way. Sometimes people have much larger, deeper concerns than the product you’re offering. Sometimes the road you chose, which seemed tough enough when you picked it, was the easy way and now, there is work to do. Next!
So Tracy and I regrouped and mapped out a plan. As Sheryl Sandberg says, when Option A isn’t available, you have to kick the shit out of Option B. We told our backers (who were mostly friends and family, still) that we would need extra help from them and one issued us a challenge — she said she’ll double her contribution if we can hit 1,000 pledges before the end of the campaign. Given where we were that day, and where we still are, it was a low-risk offer, but we took it!
We shot a quick extra video which we put out today, and will be making 5 more over the holiday weekend, three thanking our current contributors (like the ones we already sent where we badly sing, badly dance and badly lawyer), and the other two letting people know what it means to join our campaign. How much of a difference it might make to the world to have a tech company with only female founders succeed.
Of course, that’s not why we’re doing it. That’s not why I started the company, nor why Tracy joined. We did that to build amazing products that will amplify happiness in the world. But at a time when so much seems broken, it makes us happy to know that we are contributing to all that is good, and setting an example for what is possible. I’m still hoping those who were supporting us when we were all in our happy place will come back on board, but if they don’t, we’ll be okay. We have others who’ve seen the product and are asking to help, so hopefully in the two weeks left of the campaign, we’ll have their enthusiasm to add to our own.
For the past week, campaigns all across the country have broken in unexpected ways and unexpected places, but like a bone healing after a fracture, they will come back much, much stronger. We’re already on our way…
Here was our first pivot: