'Hasten Slowly' - Lessons Learned from the OnDeck Fellowship
Last month, the OnDeck Founder’s Fellowship came to an end. After 10 weeks of programming, our cohort was summoned to a huddle on Zoom, where we celebrated
The ‘ending' felt mostly incidental – certainly not the epic finale that I’d imagined when I enrolled into the program back in May. No confetti scattering across the skies, no parades to champion our march towards greater progress (Okay, I didn’t actually imagine parades…well, maybe a little).
This is in no way meant to reflect negatively on OnDeck; I’ve benefitted tremendously from participating in the fellowship in ways both anticipated (e.g. finding collaborators to help me build Multitudes) and not (e.g. romantically…the details of which I’ll save for another post 😜).
Rather, it reflects how much more grounded I’ve become in my perspective on what it will actually take to make Multitudes successful.
And that took me to understand an oft-quoted – albeit unsexy – maxim: "It’s a marathon, not a sprint."
In this post, I reflect on how I came to this understanding – and what it means for Multitudes moving forward.
Lesson #1: Being an Outsider Isn’t Such a Bad Thing
Coming into OnDeck, I was feeling pretty confident.
I had an idea. I’d been riding the high of running several successful testing sessions – all of which pointed to the promise of Multitudes to create fun and intimacy within a community.
And, I had a vision. I could see how Multitudes could grow and evolve into an experience design platform, one that enabled people all over the world to play and be silly together.
There was, however, one teensy thing that I’d been fretting about.
When it came to the start-up world, I was very much an outsider (and still kinda am one). Sure, my Stanford education has put a galaxy of start-ups in my periphery. The lingo – phrases like ‘accelerators’, ‘bootstrapping’, ‘decks,’ ‘lean startup’ and ‘MVP’ that are bandied around in every other sentence – was, therefore, familiar. Many of my friends have also gone on to found and participate in large and successful ventures.
But I’d never actually worked in a start-up. And I was continually reminded of this bare fact while reading through the intros of the 200 other people in my cohort. The vast majority were seasoned vets in the industry, all with impressive pedigrees that included the heavyweights like Apples and Googles and the unicorns like the Lyfts and Ubers.
And here I was, this world-traveling, non-technical ex-NGO dude who couldn’t tell a pre-seed from a Series D. I thought no one would take me seriously or pay me an iota of their attention. Or, if they did, it would only happen if I overcompensated, if I brandished the parts of me that would make their ears perk up (‘Stanford grad’).
Yet, as I would discover in my many interactions with the community, being an outsider can also be freeing. Not being anchored to any conventional wisdom enabled me to take liberties with the ways that I approached things, like pitching.
During one of our events, each of us were tasked with giving a sixty-second pitch of our start-up idea. Eighty people had lined up to deliver their pitches – which, per tradition, would be delivered back-to-back.
That’s a lot of pitches.
For mine, I thought I’d try to deliver my pitch in a way that reflected the Multitudes experience – with my video off and voice modulated to the pitch and timbre of a woman's. This would be a great way to demonstrate, in real time, the ways in which we form assumptions based on what we hear a person says.
As with just about everything I did in the first few weeks, I had some trepidation as to how this might be received – ‘Does he think this is a joke, or something?’
But when I began my pitch, I can still vividly recall the look of astonishment and wonder in people’s eyes. When I ended my pitch – unmodulated and with my video on – the chat had already blown up with comments about how ‘badass a move' it had been.
It provided tremendous validation for me – that I could be myself and be successful in this new and unfamiliar context. After those sixty seconds, I made a number of connections with people in the program – some of whom I’m continuing to work with!
Also, like, people in OnDeck were generally very kind and curious.
Lesson #2: It’s not a race – and, honestly, shouldn’t be treated as one.
While ignorance may have benefitted me when it came to pitching, it did not help other areas – namely, when it came to setting realistic expectations.
And, looking back at my goals going into OnDeck, this becomes pretty apparent. By the end of 10 weeks, I expected to have
- Found a co-founder
- Built out a fully functional MVP
- Completed my first round of fundraising
Technically, these goals weren’t impossible to achieve within a 10-week period.
I could have come across a co-founder at first sight during the first week, then gone on multiple sprints during weeks 2-6 to build out an MVP, and then approached investors in the final weeks.
And it informed a lot about how I approached the first half of OnDeck at a breakneck speed. After hearing about how someone in a previous cohort did 200 one-on-ones, I scheduled 60 one-on-ones in the second and third weeks. I went to every program and event – even if it wasn’t completely relevant – in the hopes that I might earn some transcendent nugget of wisdom that I could then wield towards my build. All of this in addition to running 20 testing sessions of Multitudes. By the sixth week, I was exhausted – and started to realize that speed wasn’t as virtuous as I thought it would be.
I also realized that I didn’t know a lot of things, like:
- How deciding on a co-founder relationship is akin to deciding on one’s life partner. Unless you have some pre-existing relationship with them from another context – old friends from work or school, for example – there’s a necessary ‘dating phase’ in which you absolutely have to explore what it’s like to work with the other person.
- The complexity – and novelty – of the Multitudes experience means that building it right will take time. There were several features that I was looking for – having a web-based, audio-only chat application that also could modulate voices – that simply had no existing open-source options to leverage from.
- Investment isn’t always desirable – especially in the early stages. As much as being invested in felt like a milestone in validation – ‘someone thinks I’m worth their money! – I received guidance from a number of people cautioning me from going too early or even going at all (especially when I hadn’t established product-market fit – another new term I learned during ODF!).
With that said, I have made significant progress towards the first two goals. I am continuing to work with some members of my cohort on building out Multitudes. They’re thoughtful and talented individuals who I can tell are excited at the prospect of what Multitudes has to offer and are helping expand my view of what it can be. Oh, and did I mention that they’re writing code for Carla!
Instead of affixing any labels to the relationship, we are ‘taking it slow’ (as any person in early stage relationship should) and checking in on a regular basis on how we feel about working together.
So far, it’s been great. We’re meeting on an almost daily basis, focusing on every detail of the build while zooming out to see how what we build now can grow and evolve for other purposes (for example, making Carla into a fully functional AI who can facilitate just as well as her human counterparts).
We’re aiming to have a complete build for Multitudes before the end of the September – at which point, I will in all likelihood require some testers. We will also be testing subsequent cohorts of OnDeck as we continue to refine and improve the experience.
In Conclusion – Hasten Slowly, My Friends.
I approached writing this piece thinking that I’d have three lessons to take away from the OnDeck experience – all good things come in threes?
But then, there are lots of good things that come in twos: our eyes, ears, lungs, arms, legs. Two kisses on the cheeks, each of them.
And it’s with these two that I find myself returning one of my favorite Tibetan phrases,
It’s a mysterious, oxymoronic phrase that flies in the face of the culture of speed, rush and urgency that many of us are born into.
Hasten, sure, but slowly? Is that like one of those people who’s pretending to run at the crosswalks when a car is waiting to pass?
The way I’ve come to understand this phrase is in its two words:
Hasten, in the sense of being continuous and unrelenting in your effort. Of trusting yourself – trusting myself – that what I am doing is done with intention and aligned with my values.
Slowly, in the sense of doing it with poise and equanimity. Of not rushing into relationships that may not be right, for rushing processes that don’t need to be rushed.
Persistent and full of effort, yet very relaxed and balanced.
This feels like the way Multitudes will continue to come alive.