Lessons in trying to startup

Truebill attempts to do exactly what I set out to do 3-4 years ago. Personal Finance tracking and insights using data and much more. These guys have now raised 17M$ Series C after raising 15M$ in Series B and 350k in Seed funding.

I could’ve been there doing the exact same thing, ahead in time but it isn’t the case. What really happened?

Background

Being a Chip design engineer, I didn’t have any background in software design / how to write code for an app or a website. As a cool side project, I decided to learn to code. I started with Python. I always believed that the best way to learn is to build something rather than an online course. As a use case, I thought I should build a personal finance app that gives me insights into my expenses. But I didn’t know how to extract my financial statements. Obviously, it’s not scalable for everyone to login to their accounts, dump their statements into excel and then feed it into the app. I’ll lose customers right away ( rather not have any). I started exploring and stumbled upon Plaid which has APIs to connect to various bank accounts!

Wait a minute, WHAT is an API? Well that was me in 2016. After reading through a bit, I figured that it was a way to interface with the banks using your login credentials and Plaid was doing the heavy lifting.

Avoid reinventing the wheel

My first mistake was to get started with the first line of code. I had to learn the syntax of Python, at the same time understand API wrapping it into the code. I’m used to scripting, which is a single file ( multiple procedures / functions) and does a set of computations /data collection. I followed the same principle here. Over the course of a week, spending 2–3 hours everyday, I managed to extract my financial statements along with my wife’s from 2 different bank accounts. It was a dirty code but functional.

In hindsight, this would’ve been done by a software engineer in a matter of a few hours, with scalable code.

Lessons learnt:

  • Avoid reinventing the wheel and let experts do what they’re good at.
  • Spend time in ideation and not on things that can be outsourced.

Customer Survey — but who is your target customer?

First step in Customer survey is to identify your target customer demographic and then find people who can validate the idea.

Second step is to create the survey and reach out to your target customers.

Straight forward eh? Well I got the sequence wrong. In fact, there was no sequence. I reached out to 40+ year olds for feedback who didn’t completely buy into the idea of providing their bank credentials online. I took the feedback seriously and extrapolated it to all demographics resulting in me giving up on the idea.

Lessons learnt:

  • Don’t let ego come in the way, ask for help.
  • Believe in the idea , don’t give up without trying.
  • It’s okay to get into uncharted territory

Avoid working in isolation

This was just part of the entire software infrastructure required for the whole application to work and go into production, I figured this was going to be a very long journey. The idea of this mammoth task in front of me overwhelmed me to a certain extent. I didn’t think I had it in me to do it all by myself. This coupled with the fact that my customer survey didn’t go as planned let to isolation rather than seeking help.

Lessons Learnt:

  • Don’t let ego come in the way, ask for help.
  • Find a right mentor

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