In the late Spring of this year 2017, I approached Bshara (co-founder) toying with the idea of forming a platform and startup to help and connect writers. I had been fascinated by technology since I was a child. The disruptive effects of this new sharing economy and the companies that had ensued in recent years had captured my imagination. In addition, with the titanic technological and digital changes this country would endure in the next 20 years, I knew I wanted to be in the middle of it and at the forefront somehow. I believed I had something to contribute based on where I came from. This idea to support writers erupted from the lack of support or direction I felt when writing a literary fiction novel around some of the broader themes I experienced moving to the U.S. from Haiti. It also detailed the personal frustrations I had experienced ‘making it’ as a burgeoning writer and poet in a world which privileged the chosen few who had more access and more opportunities than me. This all fueled a fire in me because I deeply believed and saw artists as entrepreneurs, people who should receive a level of abundance and wealth they deserved for their creativity and imagination all on an equal playing field. This resonated with Bshara, as he himself shared similar passions for change through the power of storytelling in engaging the deeper impulses of mankind towards a positive impact in people’s lives. We both held a deep passions for technology, so this seemed like a serendipitous turn of events and a natural fit.
We began brainstorming more intentionally for this side project late March 2017 despite being two very busy people. I was President of the Board of Managers of Coming to the Table, a national racial reconciliation non-profit that engaged deeply within the important work of racial healing and its mission of taking America beyond the legacies of U.S. Slavery. I also worked full-time within the State Department which afforded me the trampoline and security to explore this. However, we made time and researched through books and over the internet on how to start a startup, all this information was available online, well there was too much information. We drafted questions to test the market through surveys, made endless phone calls, and held in-person informational interviews and meetings to discover specifically what issues our potential users and future customers (Writers and Freelancers) faced. Who were our competitors? Who were the current companies out there producing a similar product? Was there really a need for such a platform and would people use and pay for it? To our surprise and delight, there was a need! Many people felt they lacked the time, experience, direction, confidence, structure, and accountability to engage fully in the craft of writing.
Soon after, it began take shape with our laser mission to find the most Minimum Viable Product (MVP)that could be tested. This process felt like what Leonardo da Vinci said as he sculpted large blocks of square marbles: a process of liberating the statue. Within that very block, the statue always existed, yet you had to free it by design. We had started with the large idea of a broader Marketplace where people could exchange their services in such a way that whether you had a paper or manuscript you could connect with the right editors, illustrators, or marketers for your product. Yet this still felt off, because it didn’t meet the needs and range of the many pain points we had seen or heard in our initial market research. Too often, we heard that entrepreneurs find an answer that feels good to them then try to fit people’s problems to it, they then build an entire company and product and come to find with much disappointment that people never wanted this. This seemed like exactly what we were doing, but how could we be different and do different than this broader marketplace?
We particularly had interest in the collaborative process within the sharing economy. We had questions about how we could frame a simple structure that could address all of the preliminary pain points we had discovered then find ways to start testing it and get feedback. This seemed impossible and at times foolish. After much deliberation and consultation with many others, we changed the design and language of our landing many times. We needed to be focused on finding a very niche market to start small and test it out, like the process of sculpting this marble for product market fit.
After a long struggle to find a name and searching through domain name after domain name, I suggested ‘Syllble’ (pronounced Syllable) for its integral ways within language, it’s deep connections forming all words that exist today, and even the meaning and creativity itself. In addition, it was highly recognizable, so we both decided to stick with it for now.
One of our advisers told us the traditional marketplace would come in naturally as we engaged and iterated through different collaborative writing groups. He was right. Tuning out all the noise was necessary because, as a creative person, I have too much vision. We chose to stick with initially testing the ‘Collabwriting Room’ as our MVP to create short fiction stories between two to five pages instead of large books or non-fiction work. Thus begun Version 0.1 of the MVP through self prototyping with friends. I will post the results on Medium. We are focused on iterating and improving this process so people can create freely in an unfettered way!
In the most serendipitous of events, I discovered through a good friend and applied for Seth Godin’s AltMBA program and received full scholarship funding. I was in disbelief, not only for the scholarship, but the incredible and encouraging people I met there. I learn so much in the span of 4 weeks, I had space for constructive and meaningful feedback, bouncing ideas around Syllble, a space for deep learning and practice, and most importantly I learned to “Level Up” and “Make a Rukus” which really meant to live authentically while creating, building and designing intentionally something great your users, customers and followers all love.
I grew up in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. My parents never went to college nor had they ever traveled around the world. They knew and taught me that if you put in the level of time, care, dedication, and attention to accomplishing your work, no matter what it was, you could and would achieve it. Speaking in Creole, my parents always told me, “Plant the seeds now, work now and you will reap the benefits.” I was fortunate enough to be born in a family that embodied these values. Because of them, I grew intimately to know what hard work and perseverance meant.
In 2000, my entire neighborhood of Route de Frere, Port-au-Prine, where I had grown up, was unjustly forced out by government police from our homes and our land. To make matters worst, that day also happened to be my father’s birthday. Afterward, we spent a few years moving around to different homes that were not ours. We knew our plans to remain in Haiti had deeply atrophied because of it. With a political coup d’état in the Spring of 2004, ensuing economic and social upheaval followed throughout the capital even many months after. My family made the final decision to move and immigrate to the United States in the Fall for better opportunities, to start over, and to take a stab at this American Dream.
When I moved to the United States, I barely knew the English language, and neither did my parents or brothers, but perseverance was arched in my consciousness and theirs. If we did just that, the impossible would always become possible. Attending college at Florida State University, I naturally gravitated to International Relations. I then went on to get my masters in Conflict Transformation at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (where I met co- founder Bshara).
I am at a crossroads in my life; this side project of building this creative community comes at a time of deep realization that I have nothing to lose but everything to gain by helping many more people than I thought possible. I know it’s risky, I know that 90 percent of startups fail, I know that I don’t have the technical skills, and I am not exactly sure what I am doing either, I’ve never done something like this before. I am learning and unlearning as I go, we are both learning and unlearning as we go. I know one thing for sure: the cost of not doing this is high for us and we won’t know until we try. Follow our journey here candidly as this side project evolves and our plans to jump start this creative community and collaborative marketplace.