The worst thing is not having anyone to bounce ideas and discuss.
"Should we do multi-tenant?"
"Terraform + ansible, or Container?"
"Chef, puppet, ansible?"
Is my code good? or just "enough"? Am I good or lucky?
When you have a team it is easier to answer these questions.
That said, I think I’d make the same decision again. I like being the decision maker and feeling the weight of those decisions. And like Josh says, you can move so incredibly quick when an idea does surface.
Disclosure: Paying customer :)
I'll echo the common ones: some loneliness (the sense of being in an exhausting fight against terrible odds by yourself); and not having a co-founder confidant to bounce ideas off of and to interrupt your bad ideas or occasional bouts of doubt & skepticism.
You can certainly find people to bounce ideas off of, however, two serious issues will routinely impede that: the occasional need for various degrees of privacy on internal development matters, and deep contextual knowledge of exactly what you're doing. Very few people on the outside are going to understand what you're doing well enough to provide super valuable opinions.
I've spent ~18 months working full-time on a new start-up alone. It was supposed to take half that time, of course. It's the most important work I've ever done by far and it's the last thing I intend to ever build as an entrepreneur. I would have enjoyed having a co-founder on this project, however, realistically few people would be able to go along with something this time consuming and risky (no salary for two years). Sometimes it's just going to be all on you and you have to want it badly enough to persevere.
It's a fascinating situation in the non-VC start-up land these days (that is to say, I'm intentionally not raising VC, I need max control to see it through long-term; a VC would fuck it up by prioritizing profit as the prime motive and their get-big-too-fast mantra). For a good engineer to join me for two years to do this, they might have to forsake $300,000 to $400,000 or more in total compensation. Or you have to take a dilution & control smack to the face up front and go raise a million dollars in VC. In my opinion, having watched the industry closely since the mid 1990s, the huge financial trade-off for engineers in doing non-VC start-ups is an epic problem that dissuades a lot of people (for good, sane reason). It's a simple equation: you're an engineer in a top five tech city, are you going to sacrifice a million dollars (possibly a lot more in SV) in total compensation across three to five years to do a thing, if that's what it takes? That's a monster risk to take, particularly if you're still in prime earnings years.
That equation also enables me and others to do things many other people won't or can't dare to try, they won't eat the shit necessary to do it, or can't rationally take on the risk. It weeds out some competition.
I think (from experience) that's a pretty accurate way to describe a software startup.
And so as you find yourself on the floor (continuing with the fight analogy) time after time, the question starts to creep in: "What's the purpose? Am I just wasting my life?" The usual answer is to enjoy the journey, the experience (maybe getting some flow), what you learn in the process (and you do learn a ton, no question there).
But the thing is, the further along you are, the less it is about learning or flow and the more it is about eating shit -- figuring out how to fix issue after issue after issue, often because of other people's poor decisions. In a sense, you become a lean and mean shit eating machine. And so the question starts to creep in again.
The reason traditional VC can't be involved, is because they ultimately destroy all knowledge services they touch. I've been watching VCs (or private equity in the case of Answers.com; or giant corporations in the case of eg Verizon or IAC (eg about.com)) burn them to the ground for two decades now. To do it properly you have to prioritize what I call the knowledge motive, and absolutely minimize the profit motive. If you invert that value order, you'll destroy the service and you must inherently eventually betray the community that builds it up (this will happen to Stack Exchange; it has already happened to Quora). So this service is anti-commercialism; there is no business model going in; there will be no IPO; there is no exit plan; bare threads on expenses; it has to be run hyper thin, hyper optimized against cost and bloat. Doing that properly also helps keeps me independent. I have a ten year time frame allocated (including nearly two years into it so far), during which I'll push it forward and work on it no matter what happens, assuming I don't get hit by a bus or the equivalent. The ideal may or may not be to convert it to a charitable non-profit for long-lived purposes, assuming it works of course (I'm not assuming, I'm just doing it anyway because I want this thing to exist).
I've messed with building various knowledge services going back a decade. This hit me like a bolt of lightning back in April of 2018 and I began to flesh it out. It required a few revisions in concept before full build phase began. I had to take about three months in there to teach myself some new things I had to know to be able to build this to operate very inexpensively from day one and forward (I'm assuming it will never be flush via operations).
I'm probably going to do a Show HN this month or next for it and I'm going to begin showing it to some long-term Wikipedia editors that I know. Only a few people have seen it thus far, which breaks a good common rule - in this case I don't care, I'm not trying to find traditional product market fit, I don't have to desperately obey such concerns (it's solely my dime and my time), I built it because I wanted to, it will exist and persist because I want it to. There's a glorious freedom in that, and it might entirely fall flat initially or long-term - that's ok, I'm going in assuming the worst in terms of response; I'll see what kind of response it gets and decide on any adjustments.
I'm in this for the very long-term and plotted that way from the beginning. It's another reason typical VCs can't be involved, their horizon is short-term oriented. They'll destroy you trying to force you to get big fast, and it won't matter to them if they do it, even if the thing could have succeeded by growing slower. It's just one of many reasons why knowledge services are the anti-VC segment. If you ever see a knowledge service take on big VC, you already know the guaranteed outcome ahead of time: burned to the ground, forced liquidation for pennies on the dollar, or an exit sale before the VC runs out to continue funding the bloat taken on during the get-big-too-fast phase (and then the buyer runs it into the ground or shuts it down, hello Freebase).
So how will it stay afloat financially if it gains traction? Well, first, it's static cached text in the front, so it's dirt cheap to run at a very large scale. Beyond that I have some approaches that I think will work that I'll experiment with over time - it won't require much financially.
Consider the modern landscape of information.
Wikipedias are exhaustive and generic. Therefore inefficient (full of low-value ideas, distorted learning curve). Anti-promotion policy against spam also disrupts linking to great resources. Best for basic descriptions and factual details.
Search engines are keyword-dependent and unfiltered. Therefore unfollowable (no idea progression map, ex. index) and requires active trust/relevance/value filtering (volatile, learning-rate-limited by current skill level). Best for targeted navigation (ex. find a local bus route) and first-step wide-index exploration (initial net thrown to catch better keywords/resources).
Forums/Q&A involve waiting for answers within a permitted-QA context. Therefore slow, not guaranteed, indexed chronologically not logically, usually brief/incomplete. Best for popcorn-community exploration and immediate needs for new info.
The question primes the brain for the answer. You can use that socratic lead structure without going with a traditional Q&A wait-and-pray approach (ala Stack Exchange, Answers.com, Yahoo Answers, and so on). It does require a specific system design though. You can induce and control the Q&As around a topic, you don't need to wait. Doing it intentionally and rigidly, in some cases leads to a far superior system, as opposed to the chaos and quality problems of junk filled Q&A sites like Yahoo Answers or Answers.com. In the history of the Web only one major traditional Q&A site has ever gotten it really right over time, that's Stack Exchange (and we'll see yet if their commercial interests don't erode what they accomplished, as the VCs demand their exit). The track record is abysmal because most Q&A sites are beholden to an inherently bad approach: relying heavily (and allowing) on large volumes of people with no specialization or passion for a subject to ask & answer questions (so you get a lot of low quality drive-by answers that have to be moderated away or tolerated). It's the equivalent of walking into McDonald's and expecting a five star experience, and then being surprised when it's not (when it was obvious all along exactly what was going to happen, only one outcome was possible). wikiHow, as one example, has persisted (while nearly all other how-to sites have died off in the age of Google Penguin/Panda/etc) at a modestly sound quality for so long, because they set the hows, rather than just waiting around for junk how-to questions to be asked and answered in a mediocre fashion by low quality drive-by contributors; and they accept a lower level of commercialism and volume. wikiHow worked because they do hows in a similar way conceptually to how Wikipedia does topic pages (it's all rather preordained down a strict funnel, instead of wild flailing). You can do the same thing in other ways in the Q&A segment.
Not to mention of course in most cases a site's desperation for ad clicks and page views causes them to intentionally allow volumes of low quality trash to populate their Q&A systems (what Quora turned to as it became obvious they couldn't fulfill their valuation otherwise), instead of aggressively pursuing only quality. Quality in the knowledge space is very slow, it takes enormous amounts of time and requires aggressive, consistent, persistent moderation. It takes a long time to build a high quality knowledge culture that self-reinforces, self-protects.
I don't personally believe all questions have merit, quite the opposite. This is another core flaw to the typical Q&A site. Few questions - in the grand scheme of all likely human-generated questions - have much wide merit. Numerous low value Q&A sites have overwhelmingly demonstrated that to be true over time. It's millions of people walking by, spitting on the sidewalk, and calling it art.
> Therefore slow, not guaranteed, indexed chronologically not logically
Slow is ok. Very few things of great value are built quickly, that's true today, and it has been true throughout history.
Guaranteed you can heavily influence, by adding source requirements and restricting contribution (stepped barriers to contribution, and site-culture acting as an enforcer). I use a system that adds more friction to contribution than Wikipedia for example (I don't directly compete with them, I'm not building another encyclopedia), however there are aspects to my system that play to that approach better than it would on Wikipedia, so it evens out. You also want to build a culture that regulates low quality contributions, including brief / incomplete; you can do some of that technically, however you ultimately need a human culture involved at the center, I believe it'll still be another few decades at least before AI can do it effectively enough top to bottom.
Indexing order can be influenced and dictated by editors into a logical structure, although this buckles under duress on the standard messy high volume Q&A sites with millions of people spitting on the sidewalk. Those are too disorganized, unstructured for that bottling / silo approach to work. The typical Q&A site is a landfill; landfills are mostly filled with high volumes of low value trash, you don't want to go in there and try to logically order it; it's a large amount of effort for a small payoff because the content isn't very valuable (does this rotten banana peel go before that one). You have to narrow the Q&As in topic, quality and volume, on the basis that not every question matters. If you believe every question & answer matters as a site, you end up as Yahoo Answers or Answers.com (ie worthless in the end).
I wonder how far you are in crafting the specific user experience. I create an account with my email/username/password then... I choose a topic to enter? Can anyone add a topic (reddit)? Or admin controlled topics (4chan)? No default topic isolation (hackernews)? Can questions be tagged with multiple topics (robotics, business)? How many sections do I see on the pretopic/posttopic pages (chrono index, logical-curated index, valuable-computed index)? Are normal questions excluded from primary sections (lesswrong)? What can curators/moderators do? How do I become a curator/moderator?
You are right about quality answers requiring passionate experts. And they like it when their great answers STICK. Data persistence (no "erasure after X days"). Higher positional visibility on the question page. Well formed question/tags complementing answer text for on-site/off-site SEO. Natural index that leads guidance-seeking novices/journeymen to learning-curved versatile-valuable answers without additional searching/questioning. Popularity of the infosite itself.
2 key points of consideration. 1. Learn from what existing platforms did right and wrong (stack exchange) and make sure you are sufficiently innovating. 2. Determine your platform design direction/niche by simulating concrete examples (agriculture, Q: tutorials for starting a smallscale commercial fruit/vegetable farm?). I would like to hear your thoughts on how you currently want the site/curation to process/organize that example question.
In terms of launch to the public? 96% complete user experience. A few days of work at this point. In terms of the grand scheme of things, difficult to guess how user interaction & input will alter everything over the coming years.
> And they like it when their great answers STICK. Data persistence (no "erasure after X days").
Contributions are persistent based on their quality. They can be replaced by higher quality content, or removed based on spam / abuse and similar. Otherwise, quality contributions never expire and never lose their value (they don't vanish a billion pages deep, never to be seen again).
> Can questions be tagged with multiple topics (robotics, business)?
Tags are evil (in my opinion) outside of very specific platform types and should largely be avoided. It's an extra distraction, extra friction, extra layer of complexity, extra effort. All negative for the majority of contributors. It can work ok on a site like Stackoverflow, where you have a highly technical audience that will happily nerd out with tags. Less technical persons (most people) will hate dealing with tags. If you can do a thing without tags, it's almost always better to do it without.
> How many sections do I see on the pretopic/posttopic pages (chrono index, logical-curated index, valuable-computed index)?
Logical curated indexing. Sections (content sections or areas, like categories, I assume) are intentionally avoided for the same reason as tags. I've gone to great effort to avoid complexity. I probably put as much time into that as anything, it requires a constant vigilance to avoid bloat and unnecessary 'features.' It's beautiful in its simplicity, hopefully editors will just get it thanks to that, it functions mostly in an obvious fashion (in part by limiting what can be done to a very clear, small set of actions; small, simple actions producing potent combined outcomes over time, that's the ideal).
> What can curators/moderators do? How do I become a curator/moderator?
Almost anything, in stepped fashion. You join to begin contributing (you can do this thing initially, but can't do that thing yet), and you contribute to acquire granular influence over most everything on the site. As you prove you're not a spammer, a bot, a belligerent asshole, a low quality contributor, you acquire mod 'rank' that gives you permissions and greater influence on content. I can pretty easily change the granularity of the whole system, to adjust as I see how editors impact things, where abuse is happening, or where I need less friction on contribution.
Ranking up is not automatic, so it can't be gamed in automated fashion (which would unleash wild abuse). It works on a system from E0 (editor level zero; read-only punishment) to E5 (me), and starts at E1; editors max out at E4. Once you're high enough you can upgrade other editors in a limited way, which is where I begin to delegate outward to the community of editors. I start it, act as benevolent dictator, try to shepherd a proper self-sustaining culture, and then hand it off increasingly over time.
It has a discussion system built into to its backbone, that enables editors to effectively communicate and give feedback to eachother during content building. It should also further community broadly speaking, including system feedback. I'm debating whether to eventually add an inbox editor-to-editor messaging system, I think I might with enough usage (early on it would just be negative complexity layered on top, one more thing to get in the way); I like the idea of all communication being viewable by editors on the platform, so that goes against the inbox concept.
It has a community hub system that shows all activity, all content creation, occurring on the system at that time or in the past. You can scope in on any given activity and it's all basically permanent record (unless there's something particularly bad that has to be literally removed, doxing for example).
> and make sure you are sufficiently innovating
You know what's interesting about the knowledge space right now? These days it's so barren and filled with piles of rotting corpses (most of which have been rotting for a decade and barely qualify as functioning services now), that that issue (make sure you're innovating) isn't something I've spent much time worrying about. What were the last interesting knowledge platforms? Quora 11 years ago, Stackoverflow 12 years ago. Maybe Genius as well (but it has contracted back into itself, back to lyrics). Wikipedia is almost old enough to drink. Few are doing anything in the space. There's no money in it (better to chase enterprise SaaS or fintech), so VCs aren't very interested (every decade or so they collectively forget the past mistakes they made and fund a new round of knowledge landfills they'll run into the ground) - it's a wonderful time and opportunity because of all of that.
> 2. Determine your platform design direction/niche by simulating concrete examples (agriculture, Q: tutorials for starting a smallscale commercial fruit/vegetable farm?). I would like to hear your thoughts on how you currently want the site/curation to process/organize that example question.
It doesn't have sections (eg agriculture), it's not a niche service, and it doesn't do how-to questions or stand-alone question answering. This concept has never existed before at scale, it's unusual in its approach, and it'll immediately make sense. I don't know if editors will take to the knowledge format / approach, we'll see.
Let me frame it better: you don't ask questions on this service. You use questions.
I assume that "using questions" means something like contributors post pre-answered questions, hearkening back to the "questions prime the reader for the knowledge" idea you mentioned earlier. Also was glad to hear you're keeping design elements flexible to upgrade to whatever works better.
Sounds a bit like hackernews for compact knowledge, and I am curious how you will handle the contribution rules without sectioning (what kind of info is allowed) and logical indexing design.
I'd love to take a look and offer my thoughts when you're ready for private review. It's hard to find people who share a proactive passion for the progression of knowledge systems. Couldn't find your email on your hackernews bio, so just email me instead!
You have the traditional Answers.com Q&A format, which was quasi perfected (maybe as much as possible until AI systems get a lot better) by Stackoverflow. Little has been done with it, mostly what Stack did was aggressively fix moderation and focus on high quality content (and keep the focus there for a long time). You can build a great service just by doing some of those things right, and sticking to it, of course.
You have the knowledge segment technicians, that focus on obtuse, abstract, distant, disconnected technical solutions to structuring knowledge. The semantic Web bullshit (Freebase was a failed product of that) from 10-15 years ago was largely a stillborn spawn of that realm. You still have an army of obsessive knowledge technicians messing with similar semantic Web concepts, having entirely failed to understand the failure of that era and that the knowledge structure isn't even remotely the most important aspect to getting to the proper end goal of maximum knowledge distribution & access. Those hyper technical system efforts almost always die on the lab floor so to speak, and almost never actually impact or benefit the end users: the billions of readers out there on the Internet. It's like living in an ivory tower and never touching the end knowledge consumer. Wikipedia at its heart is a very dumb encyclopedia in terms of its technical structure, and it has done radically more for traditional knowledge access & distribution than just about any other modern service (save Google of course).
The next great knowledge service will probably not be great because it has a revolutionary technical underpinning like a more advanced Freebase or similar. Those efforts will continue to fall flat, because the end reader/consumer does not care about any of that, it's superfluous to what they want. It's like great engineers that can't build great products because they don't understand the user at all and that most people aren't interested in highly technical or complex solutions (tendency toward over-engineering, having no Steve Jobs-like taste or touch for product). Freebase and many technical knowledge solutions put a lot of the technical capabilities in the reader's face in presentation; the key to eg Google succeeding was that it hid all of its incredible complexity behind a single input box of ultimate simplicity. The next great knowledge service will be quasi-dumb in terms of advanced knowledge structure, more like Wikipedia (and or it will otherwise entirely hide its advanced technical structure from the reader and appear dumb / simple on the outside).
3 years ago, I developed a small framework that spit pure HTML static website for my clients. Because 90% of the time it’s enough for small business that only want to be online.
Good luck on your project and I’ll sure be looking forward for your Show HN !
i too all a solo founder working on a better way to index knowledge bases so you can actually find information when you need it (alphacortex.io). always love to talk more about making sense of knowledge
> Don’t add a co-founder after the fact
Late co-founder makes a lot of practical sense to me.
- It's less risky for the incoming person to join a small profitable company instead of joining an idea
- You broadly know the problem space you will be working in (market, customers etc.) and the vision/direction of the company. Less likely to have fallouts a year or two down the line
- More informed equity negotiation than just splitting it equally
That person would be an early employee in my book, not a co-founder.
What did help a lot so far in my case was to get out and have concrete discussions with established people in my industry. Luckily I have some great people I can talk to, and bouncing ideas around with them on how to implement it and discuss concrete ways going forward to start a partnership really helped. It also forces you to get get moving.
And as some comment also stated, things tend to take a lot longer when you are alone than, at least I had, initially planned for.
In my case, I've been slowly building something up. It's been taking a lot of time. I'm fortunate, in not having to rush, and in not having to seek money from others.
I also have changed direction a few times. I started off, wanting to save the world, and have had to reduce my scope quite a bit.
I ran head-on into the ageism issue. No one wants to play with an old guy. Even though my particular mix of skills and experience are almost ideal for a startup, the grey hair outweighs it by a lot. It's been rather jarring.
So I just gave up trying to work with others, and am doing it myself. No matter. I have what it takes; it will just take longer.
It's not what I wanted, but it's what I got.
Good customers love buying from founders. The most productive selling period of my life was when I downed tools for 5 years and went on the road with my sales manager.
As with all things the trick is to find the right balance, and the balance is different for every product.