A Side Project and Finding the most Minimum Viable Product

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!

0-J-TMBh_ih2h99q7k
Collabwriting Room (MVP) Syllble.com

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.

1-HS1MI1xF8pTTjfaz5QphGA
Back of the Ship It Book by Seth Godin (AltMBA.com)

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.

 

Advertisements

Technological Tsunami of the Future

I remember hearing the story of a young boy from a developing country who had deemed Google as his father. He had grown up with a curious mind living in this 21st century and out of the many questions he would ask, his own father could not answer. Maybe it was about space exploration, quantum computing or most likely questions about the next gaming system, an exciting e-book or the history of a country  somewhere in this planet he had heard of at school, who knows… but Google could provide him with answers not even his own biological father could.

What about the story of an African-American men in New York City who was wrongly convicted of a crime and jailed for more than 20 years. After his release he walked on the streets of Time Square for the first time in a while, he quickly noticed that things had deeply changed but the most drastic of theses changes he felt came from the people walking all around him. “They all had headphones in their ears” he said while he continued to say “their faces always planted downward unto their phones“. This black man felt less human connections today then when he was free in the 90s.

How do we start to notice more of these changes and the impact it can have on us as an individual and on our society? Technology is changing the entire face of this planet especially our interactions as a human species. The next 15 to 40 yrs. many industries and how we will live our day-to-day life will drastically change and I believe our societies will almost be unrecognizable and our children’s children will live in a completely different world. I am not entirely sure if people know to full extent of this technological tsunami that is arriving at our shores or whether we are prepared for it.

I am not just talking about artificial intelligence and automation, I am talking about how we travel around and to different cities, space travel throughout the solar system, how social movements occur, how we eat food, how we read and watch movies, how we shop and buy goods and services, how we send messages and communicate with each other and our loved ones, how we teach our kids, how we perceive those who are different than us, how we do business in this world and most importantly how we see ourselves.

Just last week I heard someone saying that using a normal TV remote control with buttons is a thing of the past, more so from the stone age while I didn’t realize that voice control and recognition remotes are now readily being used by many cable and television companies today and is taking the industry by storm. I often don’t really watch television as much with the realization that time is only currency, though I wondered when ‘this’ in the remote became a thing, when this small technological change occurred without me even noticing. I think this is exactly what is happening to us as a human species. We are so enthralled by the mundane and noise of what the world asks us to do and believe in as a result we remain unaware of the cosmic technological changes that are set to happen or that has already been taking place.

We also have to notice that all this noise is distracting us from ever finding out what our true purpose is, why we are here on this planet and why do we wake up every single day and continue on and on. By noticing these technological changes on a much more subtle way and the impact they can have on us we can begin to take back power, agency and most importantly be a driver of innovation rather than being a consumer and passive player in this world. The old architecture that has defined most industries and global structures is collapsing and transforming into something different as we speak.

So take your surfboard, build your boat (your art, your dreams, your business) and do what ever it takes to understand this shift that is occurring in our world because it is not going anywhere. It is only the beginning.

Leadership through Mindfulness

At times I felt I carried the entire world of to do lists on my back. My world was a constant pull and tug.  I was always overwhelmed by everything I had to do. This was very much a result of all the personal goals and milestones I had set for myself. However, I also had work and responsibilities based on the many positions I had committed to. All the meetings I had to attend, all the people I had to contact, all the emails I had to send, all to move the businesses and organizations of my life forward. They all increasingly felt like heavy weights that clouded my vision and saturated my purpose. I crouched and felt immobilized by it.  Was I doing too much for a 25-year-old? This all prevented me from doing the very thing I was supposed to do: be a leader.

Leadership is a funny word that has been saturated by thousands of books and thousands of gurus telling their own stories and defining a word I believe should entirely be synonymous with humanity. Today it has lost its meaning in this vast ocean of knowledge, overconsumption of information, and living in automation. For me, leadership does represent just being human and expressing some our finest qualities as a species, like common sense, relating to others, understanding people, and to putting yourself in their shoes – especially those who express different opinions than you.

With leadership, I felt I needed to be open to the opportunities beyond what I could see now. For me, to do this I had to deeply listen to the people I worked with because they saw something I did not see; they were a piece of the puzzle to the changes I needed to implement. We needed to adapt together to move forward cohesively. All of this I could not do, as I cringed at my phone passing time on social media and, yes, ignoring emails. Mindfulness was an element that saved me because it seemed I was paralyzed and could no longer function as a human being.

Well, over the years, I have increasingly utilized mindfulness as a practice. Mindfulness is essential to my work with others and how I engage in everything I want to do in the pursuits of my passions and vocational aspirations. Mindfulness is defined as ‘the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment’. How does one become mindful of things? You must fill the space of your surrounding and what you are doing with a form of attention and noticing. It’s a process of taking your mind and its awareness through the full rivers of your willpower. It’s being aware of things around you or within you opposed to being totally submerged in automation. The example I always use is when you are driving a car and take a specific route everyday; there are times you completely enter processes of automation while daydreaming and thinking about something. Eventually, you realize you’ve arrived at your destination without your conscious control.

I think this is what a worried and stressed mind does to you more and more as you are flooded with a life of busyness. Most go through life never noticing what is truly around or within themselves. Try this as a challenge for yourself – try to become entirely aware of your breathing without ever taking control of it, focus on your breath as a passing observer. Most of the day, you are not aware of your breath but we breathe to be alive. If you can become aware of it outside the automation of breathing, you will see things start to change as you become more alive. Do this a couple times a day for five minutes and you can reach a different space that can clear your mind. It is a simple yet powerful exercise that I believe will allow you to be more human when you are bogged down by the anxiety and the busyness of life. There is so much more to mindfulness such as body-sensing, foods, smells, thoughts, etc. but I won’t go over it here. I will leave you with your curiosity to look them up if you feel this is something that resonates with your life.

Now and then, I do catch myself slipping back and intentionally getting ‘busy’. Tim Ferris says, “Being busy is a form of laziness and is most often used as a guise for avoiding the few critical important but uncomfortable actions”. This is true, because I often feel the need to be busy for no reason as if this will create a sense I am accomplishing something. I have learned this need to be busy is not a good mechanism to cope with the stress and anxiety that I can experience of my long to do lists,  responsibilities, and other things occurring in my life.

Mindfulness is one of those things you can easily implement in your life, but at the same time it is easily neglected. You have to keep up with it, day-by-day, and drop by drop the bucket will be filled up. The more and more you practice it, the more and more you can gain control in your life.

“Watch your thoughts, they become words;
watch your words, they become actions;
watch your actions, they become habits;
watch your habits, they become character;
watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

Loa Tzu