Pivoting towards death.
Brendan Mahony
December 5, 2018
Product
4 Minutes


Conviction you ask? “Fuck that” we said!


Let’s build something new :)


This mindset was something we held dearly for quite some time. As “millennials” playing in startup-land — we had an unending desire to “pivot” when the first sign of “success” wasn’t instantaneous. It’s taken us a year to get to this point but we’ve unearthed a new equation — a rosetta stone of sorts:


Zero conviction = Garbage-flavor-town-USA (i.e. spinning our wheels, not getting anywhere, feeling like Guy Fieri’s frosted-tips).


To understand how we discovered said calculation, you and I shall take a trip down memory lane — a journey back-in-time.


Bee-boop-bop *sounds of index-finger jabbing number-buttons*


(Time travel occurs).


The year is 2017. The month is September. Two gents set-up their home-office in Brooklyn, NY. Birds chirp. Naivety is ever-present.

Jono (my co-founder) and I have quit our jobs (fools) and have officially begun working full-time on our startup(s) (imbeciles). We’re interested in entering our lucky-entrepreneurial-ticket into the food space.


*Food? Aren’t the margins poop-trash? Isn’t food a logistics business? Haven’t a million startups air-freighted-freezer-dried-food that arrives tasteless at your door — only to fail? Why, yes.*


We had passion — or so we thought… After three months, we miraculously created 5 different food-related businesses:


  1. Dish-Zero (Never do a dish again): We’d supply you with dishes and replace them when they’d get dirty. Bad. Lasted 3 - 5 days.
  2. Zeal: Airbnb but for renting out kitchens. I have nothing else to say there. Last 3 - 5 days.
  3. Market: One could propose a farmers market that had x, y, z purveyors at x location and people could vote to get it built. Lasted 5 - 7 days.
  4. Markt: Instacart but all the food was grown locally. The missing E in the name “Markt” represented the missing unit-Economics of the biz. Womp. Great packaging though :) Lasted 4- 6 weeks.
  5. Untitled: Don’t think we had a name for this pup but it was a tool for food-related influencers to save the recipes, which they created on Instagram etc. Lasted 2 - 4 weeks.



As you can see — we rock. And by rock I mean suck. But WHY do we suck?? Because we had: Zero Conviction. Zero Patience. We gave these ideas anywhere from a couple of days to a few weeks (at max) before moving onto the next — but this was just the beginning…


Bop-bing-bang *sounds of flux-capacitor going back-to-the-future*


(Time travel occurs — Part-duex).


The year is 2018. The month is January. Daylight-savings-time is in full effect. Winter hath come. All is dark. All is cold.

Jono and I had just returned from a wintry-holiday-season apart. We knew our current process was unsustainable. Another pivot was in store — but this time — bigger.


Farewell food. A haiku:

Food — the pain you caused.

Played with our heart strings, not nice.

We move on — goodbye.


We decided it was time for us to move on from food-related startups. So, we thought about what we knew and the problems we had.


Jono is an engineer and I’m a UX designer. Both of us understood the world of product development and the issues therein — or at least more so than food delivery. In previous jobs, we had tinkered with design systems/component libraries and thus, we’d try and tackle the age-old-issue of UI and brand inconsistency.


This time would be different — we said — we’d stick with it — we said. We’d follow the startup “rules.” We’d study the medium posts, books, and varying methodologies relating to product validation and PM-fit...


And we did just that.


We got sign-ups on our landing page. We sent cold emails to prospects. We got meetings with big-fancy companies. We talked to potential users — we understood the problems they faced.


So we built. We shared. No one used it.


Then we got into Y Combinator.


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It is but mid 20K-18. The month is May. We hopped on a bird to Sunnyvale, CA. Hands-full of double-pineapple-dominos-pizza —  we prepped for our first YC-office-hour.


We arrived — shook-as-shit. They asked questions, poked holes, and provided feedback. Fear not— we stuck to our guns, we had conviction in the problem we were trying to solve and we were going to continue iterating on the solution.


Lol psych — we threw that shit out. Time to start over. Again.


YC was three months long. We miraculously built ~5 fairly different products in that timespan…



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Present day, YC has ended. We’re fortunate to have raised enough capital to survive another day. With that though, we have the ability to change. We’re stopping this process:


  1. Brainstorm new business.
  2. Get amped.
  3. Make landing page, logo, and name.
  4. Whip up prototype.
  5. Talk to 1–3 people (often times friends — womp).
  6. Get sad.
  7. Quit idea.
  8. Repeat.


And moving towards one of focus.


Focus on a problem. Focus on a group of users. Focus on what users are ACTUALLY telling us. Focus on continuously fighting and iterating our way towards the right solution for the problem at hand.


This is new for us. It’s been a year of pivoting ideas and products before giving anything a chance. I believe Jono and I do this because of fear. It’s scary to put something out into the world and not have it immediately work. It’s much easier to throw something out there and delete it before anyone can see.


Conviction is taking a stand even when nothing and no one is telling you to. It’s scary -- you can’t help but feel vulnerable. You feel dumb and more often than not — you end up failing.

What we’re learning is if you don’t give something the time and patience it needs, then the answer to whether or not you will “succeed” is already written. Constantly pivoting is a surefire way to fail.


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If you’ve made it this far, then #bless you. Over the past few months, Jono and I have been staying focused on what Toybox is today: the fastest way to gather feedback and report bugs on your website.


We’re onboarding users onto our free beta program now. If you’re interested — please email me anytime at brendan at toyboxsystems dot com or check out our site here: www.toyboxsystems.com


Lastly, if you have similar experiences, thoughts, or feedback, I’d love truly love to hear it. Thank you kindly — Brendan.