After 2+ years, I’m leaving GroupMe. Each of the past 807 days has been a blast. Getting to work on a fantastic product - one I used before I joined and one I’ll be using long after I go - was humbling, challenging and fulfilling. But more importantly, working with the team Steve & Jared built has been an absolute pleasure. They’re all off-the-charts amazing. I’m going to miss them.
My last post talked about seeking opportunities in areas in which a given industry’s incumbents deliberately let confusion and opaque experiences fester. The operative word there is deliberately. Entrepreneurs tackling these opportunities should remember that. Incumbents know they’re providing a poor experience, they just don’t care. So if you think you’re going to innovate in that space by partnering with an incumbent, think again.
About 3 weeks ago I had shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum. By far the worst part of the entire process has been the flood of bills, EOB’s (explanation of benefits), and insurance and provider claims hitting my postal mailbox - because why would any actor in the healthcare system use email in 2013? - almost every two days since the operation. I am drowning in a confusing deluge of paperwork.
So your engineers are building an API and it’s your job to get people to use it. This isn’t a Field of Dreams situation: just because you build it doesn’t mean they will come. It’s your job in business development to spur adoption of your company’s API, and like any good BD effort, that requires research, planning and good old fashioned execution. Over my 2+ years at GroupMe and a few iterations of our API, I’ve had my share of success and setbacks. I’ve codified some of the main learnings below; hopefully they’re a useful guide to those of you just getting started with API partnerships.
Today I learned that a high profile NYC consumer startup had a lot fewer active users than I would have guessed. In fact, fewer than I think most active observers of the NYC tech scene would guess. Their positive PR and buzz* create an outsized halo of success and mask how hard it actually is to acquire users, not to mention keep them.
I’ve recently begun teaching classes at General Assembly, and also mentoring the inaugural class of startups at the Kaplan EdTech Accelerator, powered by TechStars. It’s been a really rewarding experience to give back to the larger New York tech community and hopefully help a few entrepreneurs and companies in a small way. But it’s also been a great way for me to reflect on everything I’ve learned in my 2+ years at GroupMe, codifying and reviewing that knowledge so that I can be even better at my job. So to anyone who’s attended a GA class or with whom I’ve worked at TechStars, thank you!
FYI, I’m teaching another class at GA on Aug 7 on what BD at a consumer tech startup is, including how to work with product/engineering teams and the full sales cycle of closing deals. Please spread the word to anyone who may be interested.
GroupMe recently partnered with Balanced to power all the financial plumbing for our new Split feature. Building that partnership and working out the nitty gritty of that contract was a long and trying process. More than once we came to an impasse that looked like a deal-breaker; on one occasion I did in fact walk away.
Pretty excited about GroupMe 4.1, with two new features. Special thanks to Neil & Cam for originating the Split feature as a weekend hack and Jareau at Balanced for their support on the payments end.
Just in time for our third straight year at SXSW, we’re introducing an awesome new version of our iPhone and Android apps with two great new features.
Deals to use another company’s API usually require the most legal oversight and diligence, because you’re typically exposing your company and your users to another company’s terms of service, privacy policies, etc. — not to mention whatever potential liabilities are created by the new product you’re building.
"A goal without a plan is a wish."