Live hard, pivot hard

From my days as a games developer for PC, PlayStation 2 and Xbox (classic), about 10 years ago, I remember reading some interesting advice from the famous game designer Peter Molyneux, which may come handy now in the world of startups.

See, when creating video games, one of the most important elements to giving players a compelling experience is to reach the correct balance. All the different parameters in the game have to be just right: difficulty, rewards, comparative power of the different options available to players, etc…  it’s really hard to get this right, and a significant part of the development process must be devoted to getting this right. Game developers and designers who can do this well outshine the competition.

In thist context, the advice from Peter Molyneux was something like this: “When you are balancing a game, don’t do small adjustments. They take you nowhere, and you can’t really even know if you are on the right path. If you need to increase the cost of some element in the game, do not add or remove 10%, make it double or half.”

This stroke me back then as genius advice, and it came from someone who really knew what he was doing. It has stuck around in my memory since then, and in twisted comeback, it has resonated with me lately, as it is quite applicable to our situation in our start-up. Let me explain.

The setup

We released our system to easily create native mobile apps a few months ago. After having invested a long time developing it, we finally pushed it online and announced it, where but in Hacker News and the programming Reddit. Quickly, it turned out the reaction from developers on those places was not positive. You can read the comment threads following the previous links. Developers didn’t like that it added custom CSS tags, that it wasn’t open-source, or that it wasn’t based on HTML5.

After reflecting on this a bit, we were thinking how to move the situation forward. There were issues with the presentation of the technology and how it was packaged, presented and documented. We could try to improve the situation that way. But did we want to put all our efforts in improving this? It would still take a long time, and it wasn’t clear whether this would help overcome the barriers people found with our project.

Pivot hard

So, evaluating it, we decided to attack the core problem of lack of attraction for programmers, and embody the same technology in another product that could really overcome most of the obstacles in the previous announcement. Too complex technology and documentation? Go for a vertical target that does without hardly any documentation at all. Not attractive for programmers? Package together a product that doesn’t target programmers.

And so we came up with Mouinpress: a system that allows you to create native mobile apps for your WordPress site. It completely sidesteps the main problems with the original technology: install a WP plugin in 15 minutes and order your app. Hardly any documentation needed. Target customers won’t complain about custom CSS tags or HTML5, since they just don’t care about how the technology achieves the goal.

We’ve been talking about it with different people, potential partners and customers, and the conversations are already much more fluid and constructive than with the previous offereing.

Pivot hard. That was Molyneux’s concept, and we are going to see how well it helps us in our foray.

Live hard

As an extra, another issue has come now, and it is that there is someone else who came up with a similar idea, and they released it a couple weeks ago. And not only that, it’s a fellow HN’er too, mind you, so of course they announced their solution on HN last week!. He also explained that he’s quit his job to do this. Same as ourselves, we’re putting all our passion, effort and illusion behind this product.

So the times coming ahead are really interesting:

  • We are going to see whether the “pivot hard” philosophy really helped.
  • We are going to be competing with a fellow HN’er halfway across the world (we are in Spain, the Appifier guys are in Canada).
  • We are all going to see what size of an opportunity there is in this market, and whether our competitors’ approach and our approach are attractive to the market.

Live hard. You can’t put it in a different light.

Ready… go!

Exciting times ahead. I will try to document our advances. I hope that the reflection about Peter Molyneux’s Pivot hard philosophy can help you when thinking about your own projects. I hope that it serves our project well. And I hope there is a market for all our competitors and for ourselves.

And, by the way, we are looking for partners and investors, so if you can help in these areas, I will be happy to hear from you! I’m available on Twitter as @jonbho.