part III

Betting Big

Sofia, Bulgaria

Good times were ahead of us. After a year and a half of bootstrapping and pushing through countless rejections, Swipes was taking off. The Evernote victory was followed by a Webby Award Nomination followed by further investments. We were constantly in the media. But most importantly people adored Swipes. Regardless of the abundant skepticism of making "another task list" our initial intuition turned out to be right.

We felt invincible. There was nothing that could shake our confidence. Emboldened we looked above the horizon. There was a new hunch that was beginning to manifest itself. The Evernote integration demonstrated an important insight — work is scattered and people spend a good portion of their time "piecing" tasks, notes, emails, and whatnot. What if we pieced work for people so they don't have to? A bolder new vision started to take form where tasks were at the heart of it.

Our intuition was further confirmed by the successful release of a Gmail integration to Swipes Personal. We knew we were onto something big here. Emboldened with the new findings and ambitious vision we started raising a big round. The offers we got from Europe were not cutting it and we rejected them. Kasper and Yana ventured to the "promised land of startups" — Silicon Valley.

It was an expeditionary visit meant to establish contacts and open up opportunities. We didn't hold big hopes. After all, we had close to no contacts over there. But then something unexpected happened. On the very last day of their visit (literally on their way to the airport), they got a text from a really big investor whom we will refer to as Mr. Big. He wanted to meet with them right at the moment.

Mr. Big. was a super sharp mind. He saw the huge potential in the vision and built upon it. Connecting the work of the individual was one thing, but the true potential lies in solving this problem for the big corporations. At that time it didn't seem like too big of a bite. The game was on!

There was so much we didn't know and understand. We didn't fully understand the problem we were solving and who were we solving it for. We didn't have the network or experience with B2B sales. But there was not a single doubt in our hearts we can succeed where so many others have failed. We have always shown bravery in the face of uncertainty. After all, doesn't it take a leap of faith to be a founder?

One thing became abundantly clear — solving this problem required more than just a task list app. Swipes Personal wasn't going to cut it. We had to create a new product from scratch. But it didn't have to be so difficult. Following the success of the Evernote integration, we looked for other products where we can deliver value to users by connecting tasks. Slack was the perfect test ground for such integration. In 2015 Slack was just starting to gain real momentum as the new hip way for companies to communicate, but it was still far from becoming the standard it is today.

In just 4 weeks the integration was released and ranked #3 in Product Hunt for that day. We have hit a nerve with people and we saw it at Tech Crunch Disrupt too. Other companies in the field started to reach out for integration with their products. Yet, it still did not feel like the right thing to do. There was too much risk involved in being simply an add-on to Slack. What if Slack shuts us down or makes a feature that makes us obsolete? We had to own the experience.

With the support of Mr. Big, we decided to apply for the Alchemist — an accelerator dedicated to enterprise startups. The fame of Swipes Personal was the only reason why we were accepted and we knew it. We also knew that we would need to create a completely new stand-alone product. And we needed a bigger designated product team. This is when Kristjan, Tihomir, and Miroslav joined the company.

Mr. Big felt confident in us and offered to invest $1 million into Swipes. The round was going to be followed by a multitude of other investors and friends of Mr. Big.  This was the first time we were faced with such an offer. One million dollars would have helped us get to product market fit and get ready for growth. There was one condition, however. In return, he requested a directing position in the company. Our intuition thought otherwise. It was one of the hardest decisions we had to make, but decided to reject the offer.

Once the proposal was refused, the investor tuned his back on Swipes. The pink glass through which we saw the world shattered. We had to make the bitter realization that the majority of the investors were interested in our company not because of us or our product, but because of Mr. Big. So, once he left, they did as well.

The end of the year was around the corner and we were more confused than ever. We followed an idea, without a clear plan of action. We had a big growth team and were part of a growth accelerator but had neither a product nor a clear vision for it. Our resources were dwindling and after the withdrawal of Mr. Big, all doors seemed to be closing for us. We had to downscale the team or we risked going bust. It was a shitty situation to be. Especially before Christmas. As hard as it was we had to let Stanimir, Mitko and Dobri go.

After a winning streak, we had taken a hit of reality. There were still big unanswered questions around the new product and market we were attempting to enter. But it wasn't the last time we would be facing so much uncertainty and that wasn't going to make us give up. Not especially since we were now with one leg in Silicon Valley.