This is a short series on my journey from “Hey, this might be a neat idea” to “Look what we just did.” (Hopefully, anyway. There’s always a solid chance that I fail gloriously and publicly.) Here’s Part 1 (with a fuller explanation), Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, and Part 11.
a week and a half ago >>>
“Do I look older?” I asked as I step one foot into a heel, bringing my height up to a solid 5’7″. Alayna narrows her eyes a little as she sizes up the difference.
“Yes,” she nods. I hold onto the wall for balance and hook on the second heel.
Five of us — Alayna, Zach, Tom, Jessie, and I — have been in Baltimore, sharing Airbnbs and meals and around-the-kitchen-table sessions, messy notes scribbled out and laptops open, but also meeting with brands and media and database developers. And while I’ll never push away a great nighttime cream, in past meetings I’ve been dismissed as looking young (read: inexperienced), so I’m trying to avoid an embarrassing repeat. But these events are also notoriously casual, so I can’t just roll up in a suit with news anchor hair and an unwieldy briefcase.
Not long ago, we made the decision to make Scratch or Sniff and Gumshoe under the same umbrella. Scratch or Sniff is the already-established-but-still-young website for the allergy, asthma, and eczema community. It originally started as a dumping ground for posts I had written here about food allergies, but then June of last year, I brought on writers to make it a real “thing.” Alayna, who had already been working with me on a very part-time basis, upped her hours and has been helping making Scratch or Sniff “go” since.
And while I had debated keeping the two separate, there’s just so much overlap. Plus, it changes our revenue model, and for the better. While growth is always tricky to sustain, we’ve made major strides in the course of a year. We’ll close out September having reached 400,000 people via our website and social channels.
So now are we still just tech? Are we media? Are we both?
I think we’re still figuring it out, but it’ll be come clearer as we go. And that seems to be the case with most things, which doesn’t exactly fit with my personality. Fluid goals? Ideate as we move along? Bah.
But also yes. For example, we’ve had beta testers using the app, which is great, because now we have a solid amount of crowdsourced content on the app. But at the same time, we’re creating these partnerships with brands who are delivering information straight from the source, and that’s really valuable to our users.
Do I design a separate screen? What’s a better way to differentiate between crowdsourced info and brand info? What’s valuable to users? What’s valuable to brands?
The goal for our five days in Baltimore is to map out a solid plan for the next ninety days for Gumshoe and Scratch or Sniff. This includes scratching out a huge to-do list and doling out roles and responsibilities. While we’ve all got our own “work things” (I am, for example, writing copy, but I’ve kept my clients to a precious few, passed off some to other copywriters, and obnoxiously started a waitlist for the rest) each of us are committed to a certain number of hours a week for the next 90 days. I am excited about this, because I know our efforts combined are going to move the needle on the whole project. So between our meetings, we share (really good) meals and plan and try to take advantage of that fact that we’ve got five of us in the same place at the same time.
While I feel like my usual even-keeled self has been downright neurotic this week (Tim Ferriss talks about something he calls entrepreneurial manic-depression), I see quintessential teamwork come into play.
For example, I love writing and creating and fleshing out ideas, but I have a hard time wrapping my brain around systems with moving parts (which is, essentially, the process of building the Gumshoe API). Tom, who has worked on apps and project management, is great at the latter, and so is Jessie, who has been director of operations for more than a couple startups. We’re discussing the process of getting data entered and moved into the system, using Google Drive and Dropbox, putting checks in place to make sure we don’t duplicate, and frankly, I’m frustrated.
But I stop trying to map it out (my notebook is completely illegible at this point) and listen. I’m sitting at the kitchen table in between Tom and Jessie, gulping down tea as a coping method, and I’m watching them speak what feels like an entirely different language to me.
It’s English, and I get the words that they’re saying, but I’m not understanding them the way they’re understanding each other. Together, they figure out the data flow process, and suddenly I realize I don’t have to. Which is freeing and liberating and also a little nerve-wracking as well.
“The people that I’ve seen succeed,” Jessie tells me later, when it’s just the two of us, “are the ones that are able to trust others with different aspects of the brand. The ones that struggle are the ones that can’t relinquish control. A brand hired me to handle operations, but the CEO couldn’t relinquish control to let me do what he originally hired me to do.”
Which is why the entire concept of a team makes sense. Our skills complement each other and we can do more together. Like Captain Planet and the Planeteers and I’m pointing my ring at the sky, shouting “fire” and waiting for a magical blue man in his underwear to appear.
But of course it requires trust and a maybe a bit of a mindset change.
In the beginning, I was really hoping to bring on a tech partner that could go elbow-to-elbow with me. When I didn’t find one in that first month, I decided that I couldn’t stall the project altogether while searching for my business-y Tinder match, so I’ve been plugging along since. Having great people on board (the aforementioned four, plus other investors, advisors, and investor/advisor combos) that I can bounce ideas off of or ask for advice has been — as Salt-n-Pepa would put it — very necessary.
And I want to pay all of that great help forward, too. While I’m no pro, I’m not where I was months ago, I realize, as I’m on a video chat with a guy out in San Diego. He’s got an idea for an app.
“I’m just wondering where to start. Were you worried about copyright? How did you get investors on board? Do you think I can get a developer to work solely for equity?”
“Weheheheheheellllll let me tell you.”