Building a startup: beta stage (december – april 2013)

Last months were very busy at Cozy Cloud: we started our new beta program, we hired new members, we communicated more widely and we worked hard on the product. Here are the details of what happened.

beta stage

We previously started a beta stage that would be better called an alpha stage: only a few close friends were able to test our product (named Cozy). In december we decided to make things wider. This time we took hundreds mails from the list of people who subscribed on our website and we mount up a Cozy for each of them and send an email about what was happening. We were very excited by that and it was time to battle-hardened all our stack (infrastructure and product).

hard times

hard_time

Unfortunately, four bad news happened to us after our beta launch:

  • Things didn’t work as expected. We had very few feedback. Almost noone wrote to us. Some people didn’t even use their Cozy, despite the mails we sent to them. We learnt one thing : the capabilities of the product were too poor. Even if people knew the potential (it’s an extensible product) of our platform they didn’t get interested in it… except a very few ones who gave us some hints on what was wrong, what was not working.
  • We met a lot of problems with our hosting infrastructure. Providing hosting services is not as easy as you could imagine. Even with 100 instances we had to set up automatic backup, precise monitoring and look for optimizations. And we are still working on the provisioning and logging aspects. It’s like we have to be able to scale early.
  • We wanted to be part of Le Camping, a kind of YCombinator for French startups (we are located in France). We spent a lot of energy in our application material. We rewrite most part of the website, we changed our linkedin accounts, we spent days to record the required video. But that was not what they expected: we were busted in the first round.
  • We also send applications to have a stand and talks at FOSDEM. Our application was refused too.

This clearly brought us some doubts about the value proposition of Cozy and the feasibility of providing clean hosting services. Fortunately, people that follows us since the beginning kept encouraging us and help us with bug reports, feedback or  developments. That maintain our faith in what we do. So we decided to go on and find more workforce to help us.

NB: The reasons of why we get rejected surprised us: The Camping said that we need an experienced marketer or a first round of fundraising. FOSDEM told us that we should have a fast growing community. For both, we candidate to them to find help to do what they ask for…

new team

We made several recruitments : 3 developers (interns) and one marketer. That was a great move : they all performed pretty well and fix broken things. Today, they are still improving the product,  and they are bringing a lot of new ideas.  Moreover, what we learnt from our previous intern session, made it easy to set up our new organization (see my recently posted slides). All the materials we wrote before (documentations, tutorials, public repository…) helped them to get operational very quickly.

marketing

marketing

Then we started to think marketing seriously. First we improved the overall aspect of the product : we redesigned the user interface. Second,we improved the tools provided to Cozy external contributors to help them to set up their development environment.

Then, we applied the principle of content marketing : you produce great content (blog and newsletters) to give a good reason to people to come. We  also contacted blogger in our field (self-hosting). That’s important to reach the community to let them know that we are doing something that could interest them. We learnt from that we should separate more the project aspect (Cozy is open source) from the corporate aspect. Then we get more feedback on our app and our installer. So we could figure on what to focus on. We also received a lot of encouragements which were very important for our moral.

conclusion

So we learned the hard way two things: that’s not because you are able to convince people of your field (self-hosting) that you will be able to convince people from another one even if it’s a close one (innovative people). The technical part should never be underestimated too. We had a lot of experience in IT and we get still astonished by the required amount of work. We also tried to think simple all the time, but adding a lot of simple things make a complex thing. We also learnt that bringing new people to the project and receiving positive feedback give a lot of energy. Building a startup is a long journey and moral must be kept on top all the time.

Next months for Cozy will be dedicated to our contract with our partner (FING), to growth hacking and to fund raising. We hope you will hear about us very soon and not only on this blog!

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