I recently decided to step away from working on Thought Saver, though it will continue to run with George, CTO at the helm. It’s an idea I was and still am very excited about. Improving the way the world thinks and cognition. My vision for Thought Saver was to build a tool so that you can take away and really embody the key ideas from books or blog posts that you read using spaced repetition. I’ve always been curious by nature and I enjoy exploring my curiosities, Thought Saver was the perfect excuse to double down on that.
Thought Saver is part of the SparkWave foundry, where it’s funded by SparkWave and there is support through mentorship from Spencer and expertise from various SparkWave employees. I enjoyed my time working with Spencer and the others in SparkWave.
What went wrong?
This didn’t happen first, the product was built first. It meant it was hard to properly analyze this. To really know if this was a real problem that people were willing to spend money to solve it.
A vitamin not a mineral
The problem was too vague and all encompassing. “Improving people’s lives'' is far too vague of a problem. You need specific, tangible problems, otherwise it feels like you are playing 5D chess all in your head.
I think vagueness in a problem statement is likely an indication that there actually isn’t a problem in the first place. To contradict this though, there are some companies that have vague problems and users (Twitter, Reddit, Roam etc are a few examples of incredibly successful companies like this).
Tell tale Signs
Though there were tell tale signs from the beginning. I struggled to pitch the idea to people with the confidence and enthusiasm that I naturally convey. I felt somewhat robotic or stressed to word it correctly. I felt incredibly sensitive to other people’s opinions or lack of enthusiasm around it. Though I thought “if you stop it’s one sure way to fail.”
We also didn’t feel comfortable charging people for the tool. We never collected money for the app, this also strikes me as a bad sign.
Needing transparent analytics
We didn’t know exactly how users were using the app in a very transparent manner. We wasted a lot of time just “walking through mud” because we didn’t really know what was going on with our users. Yet it’s fundamental to know how your users are using your product. We did do lots of user interviews though, for more qualitative information.
Why did it take me so long to figure this out?
- I wanted to believe it would work (motivated reasoning).
- I had troubles with engineering progress initially and buy in, I thought having a cofounder and CTO would solve this problem for me! Having the ability to build quickly and test what we are building. However this didn’t resolve the problem.
What would I do differently next time?
- Get people to pay for your tool ASAP and you will waste much less time!
- As a founder, the person spending their day to day on an idea, you need to start with the idea from the very beginning. You need to have emotional buy-in to the idea, like you’ve “birthed it.” You can adopt another child but it’s incredibly hard to have the same level of attachment then if it was your own.
- I’d make sure my incentives are fully aligned with the growth of the company.
- To trust my gut and intuition about whether I really love the idea and if I am compelled by the idea. I think my gut knew it wasn’t a winner, and this can also be self fulfilling. I couldn’t convince myself or others to convey the vision (and I was subconsciously thinking this but trying to suppress it because I knew it’d only lead to a demise of my efforts and the company). I will make sure to listen to my gut and trust my instincts much more.
I’m going to explore problem spaces that I am particularly excited about and that harness my individual skills, focusing on how I can provide as much value as possible to the world. How can I truly and tangibly improve people’s lives? I see monetized products and companies as a crucial part of this, because people paying money for a product to solve a problem concretely shows how much value it is providing them.
Problems I am currently exploring
1. Reinventing mass transit: I believe the world has not seen how good mass transit could be.
I'd love to reinvent the way we design buses to design user-centric experiences and smart self-driving buses. To get my foot in the door I could start by working on announcements on buses. This is something I have experience implementing and have networks within the industry and can easily get started on. It’s also something that is in demand with new UK legislation changes. I would next move onto bus payment systems, something that has a lot of inefficiencies and money in, then I will move onto redesigning the entirety of the bus. I also have relevant experience working in public transport entities and startups which makes this particularly relevant.
2. Leveraging TTS AI models for self-published authors: given the booming audiobook and self-publishing market, and convincingly good LLMs, I’m excited to use TTS AI models to assist self-published authors to create audiobooks and other online content.
I personally love listening to audio-books, and I’m excited to see more lesser known books on audio. There is an open source model that few people are using that is substantially better than any of the existing models (Sample of a book I generated here - https://publishing.florencehinder.com/). I think this would make a whole range of books and ideas that aren’t currently read to be more easily consumed.
3. Career advice for high school students: I have been working with high schools and developing a tool that utilizes job demand data, individual skills, and interests to match students with suitable careers and pathways to consider.
I think the existing solutions are outdated, inaccurate, and impersonal. It’s something that I’d have greatly appreciated when I was at school, instead of having several different career pivots before realizing the technology products with fast paced and adaptive teams were my bread and butter. Understanding users and creating user centric products (whether that's for public transit agencies for fast growing startups).
4. Housing Crisis: high quality housing should be a basic human right.
I think current housing sucks. It’s low quality, sprawled and unaffordable. I have a background in Civil Engineering and I am slightly obsessed with good housing design. I’m mostly curious to just explore this space! Understand the problems and see if there are any problems I could help solve.
If any of these ideas or projects sound particularly interesting to you, please reach out! I’d love to talk :)
I learned a lot working on Thought Saver about the importance of emotional buy-in to an idea as a founder, as well as the need for specific and tangible problems to solve. I also got insights into the influence of power dynamics, signalling and social dynamics on decision-making. I look forward to my next adventure and I hope I take all these lessons forward with me on my next endeavour!