Stridr is a project that I worked on between July 2016 and Dec. 2017. It was a social media aggregator that put all of your feeds in one place and suggested interesting new things based on what you already like.
In the beginning...
In July 2015, I began daydreaming about a social app that put all of the platforms in one place. I spent countless hours thinking about it. I had started to learn to code and decided to build my skills up enough to make the app myself. This led me to my first year at North Island College starting two months later.
During my first year, the idea percolated as I focused on my studies. When the first year was complete, the idea started taking over my daydreaming again. Come July 2016, I felt that I had sufficient skills to begin a more serious pursuit of this app. I began working on the branding of the app soon-to-be and told my instructors at NIC about the idea. One of them put me in contact with Graham Truax at Innovation Island.
I scheduled a meeting with Graham, and we met the next day. Graham introduced himself and Innovation Island and we discussed my idea. I remember my idea being so profound and groundbreaking, and while not dismissing my idea in the least, Graham essentially said, "ideas are a dime a dozen."
That was my first lesson. Ideas are a dime a dozen. More importantly, an amazing idea that's half-assed will never be as successful as a crap idea that has been followed-through with completely. Even then, an amazing idea that's followed through with completely may still fail due to factors like timing.
As an aside, for the following months, every time I contacted Graham, I had to remind him who I was and what I was doing. I wasn't offended, I knew he works with a lot of people and I was by far a novice to the whole business and tech world.
Get to work!
After my first meeting with Graham, his message was simple. Get to work. He provided me with valuable resources for lean management, persona profiles, minimum viable product, and more.
So I did. I began reading more than I ever have in my life. I began incorporating Stridr into all of my class projects at North Island College. Between September and May, I had incorporated Stridr in five of my classes, including Portfolio Project, a class where we independently took on a large project from start to finish.
I knew Stridr would be way more work than I could possibly handle. I found Taylor Leach, who agreed to do the front end development and UI/UX design. Luckily, due to a hiccup in the program schedule at North Island College, Taylor had taken a class on UI/UX design, and did phenomenal work on Stridr because of it.
A Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
By the end of the school year, I had created a business plan, business model canvas brochure and presentation, a social media plan; and with Taylor Leach, a minimum viable product built on Ruby on Rails and other open source technologies.
After a long duration of radio silence, I contacted Graham and showed him everything I had created. After that meeting, I no longer had to remind him who I was or what I was doing. That gave me a strong sense of accomplishment. Shortly after, he had invited me to the BC Venture Acceleration Program.
Refreshing the MVP
At this point, the MVP wasn't that great. It didn't really do anything useful, and I was determined to change that. I worked tirelessly to create a functioning recommendation system, to squash all the bugs that cropped up from meeting the school deadline, and to get the app to a point where I could comfortably start trying to market it.
Eventually, I got the app to that point. I started implementing my social media plan and was immediately getting user feedback. I had done some light advertising on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. Pinterest was by far getting the most click-throughs. This was an interesting takeaway because Pinterest was the primary reason I came up with Stridr as an idea.
From the user feedback, I learned Stridr needs to be more than a recommendation system. It would gain a lot of value from having an all-in-one content feed. At this point, I was getting really good at coding, particularly with social APIs. I managed to have a working content feed within 4 days of coding.
Acceptance to the Venture Acceleration Program
While all of this was happening, Graham and I were plotting to have North Island College sponsor my membership in the Venture Acceleration Program. Being a starving college student, even a very reasonable price of $200/mo was too much for me.
We met with NIC's Vice President, Randall Heidt. He was very supportive and enthusiastic about the project, and working with him was a lot of fun. He agreed to sponsor me. This made Stridr a big deal to me. I was so energized by everyone's enthusiasm in the project.
Scale, scale, scale
By now, I was starting to feel a little overwhelmed. A lot of eyes were on Stridr, and there was so much more work to be done. Squashing bugs, adding features, researching other content aggregators and how they grew, digging into platform policies, putting out the constant fires from using 9 different web APIs.
After contorting in a million different ways to manage my time more effectively, my research had begun to reveal grim truths about working with social APIs. In particular, they could stop working at the flick of a wrist (whether intentional or not). Additionally, my efforts of playing nice with all of the platforms could prove to be fruitless in the long term, no matter how many times I cross my t's and dot my i's.
I began budgeting my time and money and began to realize continuing work on the project would take substantial amounts of money, and 60+ hours/week of work. I simply didn't have enough money in my bank account to keep doing that, even with the generous support of Randall Heidt and North Island College.
All was not lost
Diving into Stridr, I knew one of two things would happen. I'd either have created a successful company, or I'd have learned way more than traditional lessons could ever teach, and become that much more proficient when I take on the next venture.
For me, it was a win/win, despite the project as a whole fizzling out. What did I learn, exactly?
- Lean management
- Creating a business model canvas and how to use it
- Creating meaningful, realistic persona profiles
- Time management
- Value Proposition Design
- Social API integrations
- OAuth flow
- Amazon AWS S3
- A multitude of Dev Ops proficiencies
- Rails console debugging
- Full text search development and integrations
- So many other things I can't immediately recall everything
At no point do I feel let down by this process. Everything I have done up to this point has been an amazing experience, and I am far more confident with any future venture I may pursue.
Throughout this entire journey, I've been amazed by the immense support of my classmates, instructors, college administration, fellow entrepreneurs, and especially of my friends and family. I am disappointed that Stridr will not become a familiar name to all the social media savvy people in the world, but I'm grateful for the experience and all the rewards that came from it.