I believe in transparency. People ask me all the time how the business is going and so I have decided to publish quarterly updates on the business, our goals and reflections on our progress.
We began operating as a company officially on Jan 1, 2018. There was some modest progress before that point, but this was the real start. Q1 was all about getting started. There was a lot more blocking and tackling than I expected. Red tape isn’t necessarily difficult, it just requires a lot of research to know what needs to be done. In addition, I spent most of my time doing research on a whole host of business related activities (product, market, marketing, technology, fundraising, corp governance, etc). While this was not wasted time, it certainly did not proceed as quickly as I had hoped. We ended the quarter about a month behind where I thought we should be.
Q2 has been all about building. Unfortunately I have not been able to talk as publicly as I had wanted about where we are, but as you will read, things have changed. We have been focused on 3 areas.
- Patent Protection. I believe in this business. I believe in the vast potential for the future. Building a great business means that the strength of your product (in our case, breadth of content and capabilities) becomes a natural barrier to entry for competitors. I believe we can win that battle. However, patent trolls are a real threat and can be a significant distraction to what we want to achieve. Because of this, I wanted to invest in patent protection as a hedge against the trolls. This took a significant amount of time. Our patent application is 67 pages of text with 12 diagrams. But we have successfully filed and are now “patent pending” for SYSTEMS AND METHODS FOR MANIPULATING THE SHAPE AND BEHAVIOR OF A PHYSICAL SPACE. The patent process is lengthy, so there won’t be updates for many months, but now that we have filed, I am free to comment publicly about what and how we are building the future of what we call "Manipulated Reality". More to come in subsequent posts.
- Physical Infrastructure. In an effort to validate product:market fit, we are building a mobile prototype so that customers can get in there and experience what this will be like. It’s one thing to talk about our concept and all conversational feedback has been positive. It’s completely different to engulf oneself in experiential learning with non-traditional content. We are building out the Mobile Training Unit (MTU) specifically to let us ‘get out of the office’ as Steve Blank would say, and gather data.
- Software Interface. Building a programmable 'escape room', necessitates the use of technology. We are building the infrastructure necessary to operate multiple zones with near infinite missions on a single platform. We are intentionally architecting for scale. This creates the potential for a robust initial roll-out of functionality and also a streamlined approach to new features from our roadmap over time. We have employed a designer, full-stack developer and architect to build out the player facing app, as well as an intern-developer for the administrative utilities.
Overall I’d score me a C+ and the business a B. We have accomplished a lot, but at a slower pace than plan. Years of estimation at Fidelity have given me a firm grasp of budget, and so spending is on plan. A number of personal one-time activities (selling house, getting married, daughter to college) have put a strain on my time commitments, but I am confident about Q3 being free of extraordinary events.
- Accelerators- I applied and was rejected from 5 different accelerator programs. While I was not convinced that this was key to our success and I did not spend an inordinate amount of time on the applications, it would have been a good way to grow our network and get some peer feedback.
- Technology- I spent much of Q4-17 and Q1-18 trying to learn a tech stack (Python) to develop on my own. This was a waste of time. My abilities as an architect are a far better cost effective use of time when I can pair with a competent developer.
- Design – I spent some money on a cloud sourced replacement for our logo. While I have always liked my original logo design, it never felt right. It represents a future vision of the product that is too abstract for where we are now. This new one isn’t great either. I will need to revisit at some point, and I know I will need a true designer. The good news is that I know exactly who that person will be.
- Recruiting – I have long argued that I do not believe in the ‘living on ramen’ notion of having 20-somethings fumbling around with no experience trying to solve big problems. Sure, serendipity strikes and some young entrepreneurs have built extraordinary companies. There is only one person I trust and respect enough to be a tech co-founder, and unfortunately he is not in a position to make the jump that I did. I have met with several peers that I would hire for key positions in the company, but these moves will have to wait until we have adequate funding or revenue.
- Design – My original scope for MVP did not include any focus on good design. I hear people argue for this all the time but I had disagreed. I was convinced otherwise, spent time with an excellent designer and am a convert.
- Technology – I have contracted with a firm to provide tech development for the app. Thus far the product and execution has been spectacular. I had suspected that my ability to scale would work well with contractors, this has proven out. While we are moving a little slower than plan, that gives me time to make sure it is done right and we have wasted almost no dev effort.
- Patent – The patent is a complex process and the writing is very specific. Luckily my writing abilities afforded a good bit of saving by partnering with our law firm to have me produce the bulk of the text, while they translated to legal-ese. The final product is a very good document.
Jury is Out
- Recruiting – While I do not believe in enabling a 20-something as a co-founder, I believe there is potential to hire college students, veterans or recent graduates and mold them into exceptional employees. My n=1 for interns is not enough to recognize a pattern, but I am still hopeful.
- Content – Being creative with content to make this an engaging experience, is hard. I have created several missions to test the platform, but we will need to engage new contributors in the coming months.
- Physical structure – We have developed templates to aid in making the construction process very efficient. So far the structure looks to be both quick to set up and sturdy. We need to see more to determine how solid all the pieces will fit together.
Q3 Outlook and Objectives
- Complete software development. By the end of July the player components should be complete and by the end of August the administrative utilities will also be complete.
- Physical structure – by mid-August our 5 room prototype MTU will be complete and tested.
- Content – We need to build missions for the platform. The goal is to have 30 available on the platform and run at least 1 content forum either with educators, consultants or L&D staff.
- Marketing – We will begin developing materials to assist in presenting to large companies. Given our network, these will target financial services to start. We will also start to built out a plot-platform to aid in making missions thematically fun. This will be somewhat stealthy to make it more interesting.
- Sales – As the product is ready to pitch to customers, we will start selling in earnest in late August and September. The goal is to book 3 engagements.
- Financing – We will start reaching out to firms to get on VC’s radar. The goal is to ‘establish dots’ with 10 firms and have conversations.
So there is my update. Not quite as riveting as a Warren Buffett annual report, but I promise to make my annual message and full report much more interesting. Keep tuned as I will be blogging more in the coming months.