The Impossible Startup: Hypothesis

What is The Impossible Startup?

I want to bring you on a journey as I found my third company. It’s the most ambitious one yet. We are very much in the ideation stage, hence the title of this post. If you guys like this, then I’ll write  additional content on how we are executing this idea. My goal for writing this post is two fold:

  • Teach you how I went about this and, maybe, helping you get inspiration for your next startup
  • Get advice from those reading my posts

Attempt One: Let’s get rid of Covid confusion

Our first foray was to resolve the problem identified as “Sources (and conversations) are not accessible”. 

Hypothesis: We believe that by amalgamating, summarizing and categorizing the expert consensus on a topic we can help people get closer to the truth.

We decided to build our MVP around Covid. Understanding the ever changing nuances and specifics of Covid is a problem. Depending on what sources you listen to Covid is either the scariest thing ever or nothing to worry about. 

So what if we could create a Wikipedia style page that summarizes all the research papers in plain English and updates itself as new information comes out? Instead of relying on CNN or Fox News, you can read the works of scientists publishing on top journals summarized, categorized, and updated automatically. We thought this would be a great MVP and test of our hypothesis.

Being disciples of lean startups we wanted to see if we can hack something together in a couple of weeks. 

  • We tried getting access to GPT-3 but had no luck. Instead my cofounder found used a combination of tensorflow/keras/LTSM
  • We found CORE, which allowed us to use their API to download journal articles. 

My cofounder spent a good 30 hours trying to make tensorflow/keras/LTSM properly summarize the articles we were getting from CORE. Sadly, this turned out to be much harder than expected. We realized

  • CORE does not have access to all research papers. 
  • The way research papers are formatted on CORE makes it very difficult for the machine learning algorithm to work. 
  • A lot of research papers on core are in another language. 

Outcome: This seemed like too technical of a problem to create an easy MVP on.

Time to pivot: How about experts talk to the public directly?

If it’s too hard to summarize existing information, maybe we can get experts to share their consensus on a topic. 

Hypothesis: We believe that by making it easier and incentivizing experts to share their opinion on topics in their field we can show expert consensus on a topic. This will allow us to get closer to the truth. 

Validation:

  • I asked on I/O psychology subreddit and got some interesting responses. Lot’s of PhDs on here
    • Reached out to some of the commenters on this thread. Generally consensus, “Why would we want another platform on top of the existing ones to publish stuff?”
  • I asked a couple of PhDs on Twitter. I sadly deleted these tweets but they basically said, “We already have too many platforms and we like twitter. If anything we want fewer platforms”
  • Ideally you talk to friend, family and coworkers. I only had my brother who is a PhD. I recommend following the guide here to interview people. 

Outcome

Experts already put out a ton of content on Podcasts, Twitter, Youtube, Substack, Medium, Linkedin and many more places. The real challenge seems to be getting that content in front of the right eyes. 

Pivot again: Current version of Cicero

Hypothesis: We believe that by allowing people to discover and follow leading experts and centralizing their work from many sources into one we can help people come closer to the truth. 

Validation:

  • This is actually a dream product for myself and my cofounders. Personally, I am so sick of Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and Linkedin all have algorithms and content that is not conducive to learning. 
  • I made a couple of posts on various subreddits with mixed results. Some had very high upvotes relative to other content, but mixed comments. 
    • Example 1 Example 2 Example 3 Example 4 Example 5
    • I went to Discord channels for /r/rational and Intellectual Dark Web to do some interviews. Talked to about 12 people. Mixed results again, but people were very curious
    • Talked to lots more friends this time. Again, very interested but they couldn’t visualize it. Again, use this to determine how to interview people. 

Competitors?

  • RSS feeds like Feedly are confused on following sources rather than people and are terrible for discovery. 
  • LinkedIn, Twitter and others are not focused on learning and growth. Only addiction and allow junk content. 
  • Personal websites and blogs. This is the closest competitor. I found some people just subscribe to the newsletter of people they care about. But they were really interested in features around discovery and finding all time top content of their favorite experts. 

Outcome:

We decided there is something there. People see the problem clearly, but it’s hard for them to visualize the solution we are proposing. We realized our niche market is people who already are heavily involved with following blogs, substacks and podcasts of experts but feel like it’s hard to comb through everything or discover new voices. 

Laying the foundations

Lean Startup: As I mentioned, I’m a big fan of lean startups. In particular I think Alex Cowan has a great website for this. We used Alex Cowan’s incredible breakdown of the Business Model Canvas to flesh out our new idea. His workshop on it is a lot of fun. 

  • Deep dive into persona’s as outlined here.
  • We built our Canvas on Miro as they had a prebuilt Business Model Canvas template.
  • Used Miro again to find UX template and flesh out UI/UX
  • Understand technical feasibility. Made another Whimsical chart outlining requirements to go live. 
    • Turn these into stories and product manage on Notion 

Goal: With the least amount of work possible can we validate our ideas? In order to validate we need a rudimentary website and mockups to get in front of people. We also need to know how hard it will be to great our MVP. 

  • Used Notion to product manage. Began working to understand how hard it is to implement integrations and algorithms.
  • Fleshed out of technical specs on Notion. Tried to see if we can find a low code platform for quick MVP creation. Landed on Bubble
  • Became Mocking up our Website on Webflow and our app in Figma

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