Reflections and Moving Forward
It’s hard to describe the feeling of achieving something you’ve always dreamed of. I’ll be honest, when it happened to me, I felt like I was on top of the world, like nothing could bring me down. Until I had the sobering realization that maybe I had the wrong goal all along.
I’ve never really written about getting into Y Combinator or my (amazing) experience throughout. It’s mostly because in my head I’d decided that when I would write about it, I would write fondly of the days when we realized that we were on the path to success. Getting into Y Combinator was always a huge goal for me, as it undoubtedly is for many other aspiring entrepreneurs. It was the “one thing” I needed to ensure success. After all, once I joined YC, what could go wrong? Surely investors would come flocking and customers would line up in awe.
We created Hiptype as a side project in March 2012, while I was still working at Chartboost as an early engineer. When I found out we’d been accepted to YC’s Summer 2012 batch, I’d been at Chartboost for under six months. Being able to see our internal numbers, I knew this was one of the fastest growing startups in the space, one that re-defined the term “exponential growth” (they recently proved me right, announcing a $19M Series B led by Sequoia earlier in January). It could have been a hard decision – unvested options, an amazing team, and the chance to be a part of something that I knew was going to become big. But for me, the decision to leave was instantaneous. After all, I came to the Valley to do something of my own (and hopefully get into YC eventually), the opportunity just came sooner than I could’ve imagined. I didn’t need to give the decision a second thought, it just felt like the thing I had to do.
So I did, and we joined YC’s Summer 2012 batch shortly thereafter. For the longest time, everything was just as picture perfect as we’d imagined. We’d stay up late working on the latest product sprint. We saw week-over-week improvement. We were even on track to get publishers piloting our analytics plugin in their eBooks by the end of the Summer. We were, in all senses of the meaningless phrase, “killing it.” But in the blink of an eye, everything changed. Conversations that were going oh-so-well suddenly seemed derailed. Platforms that had analytics working were suddenly blocked. Every calculated risk we’d taken just seemed to backfire (e.g. platform risk we’d incurred by building on the largest ebook platforms instead of making our own app). I’ll save you the long story, as we’ve already written about our experience and lessons learned in our post What We Learned, but it resulted in us ultimately deciding to wind down our analytics service in December 2012.
Looking back and re-evaluating my goals, it seems Y Combinator was never the main goal after all, just a milestone along the way. My real, “ultimate” goal was never merely launching a product (after all, anyone can do that), just getting users, just getting investors, or even just getting validation. Maybe my real goal boils down to making something people really want. Making something big.
When I’ve talked with family, friends, and mentors, the first question I’ve gotten is, “Why don’t you just do another startup?” I’ve definitely evaluated a few ideas, and the thought is tempting – a year ago I might have even said it’s the best thing to do. But since, I’ve realized that I don’t want to “do a startup” for the sake of doing a startup. I don’t want to whiteboard ideas for products and business models that people might be interested in. It’s overrated. Instead, I want to solve a burning problem that I have. I want to be 110% passionate about the idea. I want to know that if nothing else, I have diehard customers who get an immense value out of what I’ve built. I’ll do my next startup when I settle on what exactly that is. But for now…
I’m extremely excited to announce that I’ve joined Zynga as their Product Manager for Real-Money Gaming (RMG). Why RMG at Zynga? I’m really excited by the challenge. I’m joining a company that has immense experience in creating games that engage users and enable them to interact with their friends. Real-Money Gaming is a natural extension, and will give me the opportunity to work with an incredibly talented team to reinvent casual gaming. It’s an incredible opportunity, and I’ll be joining a growing team and helping shape the future of Zynga’s business.
I’ll be honest: I realize that Zynga is no Charity: Water. I’m not going to be improving someone’s everyday life like Dropbox (students, teams, everyone), Instacart (everyone), Amicus (nonprofits), or Gumroad (content creators). But I will be getting the chance to build a kick-ass product that you might even use someday. Everything we do will be scrutinized in the public eye, for better and for worse – and that excites me. In reality, it’s incredibly easy to look back at decisions and say “I should have done that,” “I could have that”, and “Why the hell would he do that.” After all, spectating is the common man’s sport and everyone has an opinion. From my side, I just see a rocketship being built. I’m sure as hell going to get onboard and help build it from the ground up.
“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.” –Henry David Thoreau