First traction, then funding

Our vision for Zolo Labs is an ambitious one: we see a suite of services that interoperate and solve common problems in our information overloaded lives, particularly in the enterprise. Having said that, we’re completely focused on Zolodeck just now.

This one service itself is fairly non-trivial, having not just to deal with a ton of data (multiple email inboxes, multiple social networks), but it also needs to process it quickly in a variety of ways, and then present information so that it can alleviate the communications overload problem. After all, an automated, personal relationship manager needs to be real-time, contextual and relevant, intuitive, and helpful. And fast.

The project is a ton of fun to work on, but it is also, well, a ton of work, and it’s probably going to be hard for just Siva and me to do it all for an extended length of time. Especially as we start adding other data sources to the core of our engine (things like blogs, note-taking services such as Evernote, file-sync services such as Dropbox, etc.) We know we’re going to need venture capital in the future, so we’ve been doing a bunch of research on what it’s going to take, when might be a good time to go looking, and so on.

There’s a fair bunch of literature on all this out there… here’re some examples:

On further reflection, I think our way of thinking about this could be all wrong. We seem to be focusing on milestone goals so we can go talk to angels and VCs, instead of just focusing on the business.

Shouldn’t we nail the initial product first, figure out product/market fit, ultimately provide enough value that our users will pay us for the service? See if we can grow the business in this organic way? Then, after getting some understanding of how real our market is, etc., figure out what we’d need to do, plan for it, and think about raising money?

Or perhaps this business-first thinking is what the above posts really mean. Perhaps it’s the same thinking, just distilled into pithy one-liners of wisdom. “For an enterprise focused startup, thou shalt have at least $100K in annual revenue before seeking funding”.

Anyway, so our approach now is to focus on the product. As it should be, of course. We had launched an early alpha (henceforth referred to as Alpha1) in December last year. We were working on it during nights and weekends, so the code was less than ideal. Since March, Siva and I have quit our day jobs, and have been focusing almost full-time on Zolo Labs (still need to consult a bit, so we can continue to put food on our respective tables :D).

Overall, we’ve only *really* been at it for the past 6 weeks or so, of which about a month was spent cleaning up our codebase to build a more stable foundation for going forward. And for the past couple of weeks, we’ve finally been working on adding product functionality. Phew.

So the plan is to do another external release in about 3 weeks time (with the original name of Alpha2). This time, we’ll be supporting not just Facebook, but also email inboxes (only GMail or Google Apps email for now). We’ll release to around 50 or so users, in order to gather feedback on the new features.

I’m guessing our thoughts about funding will take a backseat for a few more weeks. Let’s first see if we can get some traction.

P. S. If you’d like to help test Zolodeck Alpha2, please tweet us at @amitrathore or @sivajag.

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