December 27, 2020

Why failed

The short answer is because I stopped working on it.

I stopped working on it, because there wasn't traction. There wasn't traction because I didn't do enough testing. I didn't do enough testing because I focused too much on building. I focused too much on building, because thats what I'm comfortable with. I'm more comfy with building because pushing code felt more productive. Although interviewing and talking with users feels fruitless, it is counter intuitively the most fruitful thing you can and must do.

The Idea

I work in a building that hosts conferences, symposia, and Poster Sessions. When I happened to stumble into a session, I was captivated by the energy of the youthful presenters and curious attendees.

They were millenials, intellectals, academics, yet stuck in an analogue mode of paper presentation.

It was then I had the spark of inspiration for an online version of this poster session. One that would allow for search/discovery, metrics (views, likes), sharing (qr code, social), and profiles (since many of these students were seeking research positions).

I also saw a path forward to distributing this site because of my ties with the National Institutes of Health.

What I did

  • I asked poster presenters in real life, what they did with their posters after a conference/symposium.

I also asked them if they'd like to view posters of others around the world and from previous past sessions. The general perception was positive.

  • I noticed all presenters were repeatedly giving the same pitch as they stood guard over their poster. I thought this was very old fashioned, and many of the presenters themselves agreed.

  • I spammed facebook groups I wasn't a part of and got zero response.

I pitched in the jelly slack channel, and chatted with ideal personas.

  • I added a VideoAsk plugin so that users would know the face behind the site.

In principle I think this was correct, but it was not very useful and didn't garner much feedback.

  • I had lofty visions of a site that could inspire researchers to not repeat the same work.

What I should have done

  • I kept this in stealth from my workplace, partly in stupid belief that it was going to be copied soon, but also because it would be perceived as a distraction. I should have a job where the culture rewards side projects. I should have also pre-sold the idea of this site with the NIH or organizers of poster sessions.

  • I underestimated the pre-existing sites out there that had similarities to my idea. I should have reached out to the founders or those overlapping competitors for advice, instead of just trying them out quickly.

  • I should have figured out the business model.

Some people on lunchclub or DialUp I was paired with, wondered what the end goal of it was. I was initially just chasing users and engagement, and was planning on taking it from there. Because this was a non-serious passion project and bootstrapped, I wasn't desperate for cash. Perhaps to a fault. I am now aware that dollar in hand, is the only way to validate an idea.

  • I got stuck on technical problems like pagination and user account management.

I didn't prioritize features with users, I only vaguely confirmed their yes/no interest in such a product.

  • I didn't share progress as I was building, so I inevitably lost motivation because it was just me and the code.

  • I had conviction on the idea, but I didn't do enough validation. I should have been asking "How could this fail?", rather than "Could you see this working?".

The balance between pessimism and optimism, at the right times and in due measure, is probably the hardest one to strike.

  • I had never gone through the process of making or presenting my own poster, so it was never truly my own problem.

I only imagined and assumed what it would be like.

  • I never held a live user testing session, where I could hear what the user was thinking and how they were interacting with the interface. I never created even a post-use survey, where I could anonymously gather feedback.

  • I didn't keep in touch with previous users or interviewees after our initial contact.

I had not developed the muscle of emailing updates to a list yet. A big part of why I'm committing to this sort of communication practice in 2021 here.

What now

Well, the domain expired since it's been a year. All work has frozen on it. You can still visit the MVP here

There are some silver linings here however. I collaborated successfully with a 3D illustrator in Jamaica. I learned more about Vuetify and Firebase. I jumpstarted my email list.

Here are 116 sites I bookmarked in the course of my research if you're interested in going down this rabbit hole.

If you'd like to adopt and foster this project, or have some new insight or conviction on its potential, reach out! Or even if you are also pursuing this idea separately, and would like to chat.

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