Story of Maybe

It’s been 2 months since Maybe, a company I co-founded, was acquired by LinkedIn. I have a few “lessons learned” drafts that I’ll clean up and post in the future. But for now, a therapeutic retrospective…

Maybe started with the idea of making decision emails a better experience. You know, those emails you send to friends with 5 airbnb links to pick between for the weekend. Or the email you send to your photographer friend with the 3 digital cameras you’ve been eyeing. Everybody’s sent or received them.

The first prototype was a bookmarklet that collected URLs and sent out a nice email. There was potential and friends & family we pitched it to immediately identified with the problem. The space also fit our criteria of 1) consumer, 2) infinite, and 3) a problem we had ourselves. We formed a company, raised a round of money, and we were off!

The MVP ended up being a combination of Pinterest and Quora, at least that’s how Robert Scoble described it (love the positive comments). Launch day, June 29th, 2012, we fired up extra EC2 instances, eagle eyed the logs, read the blogs, and ate cake. At this point the team was 3 co-founders Haider, Omar, and I plus Vivian, our designer (eventually 2 ex-AdMob stars joined, Chris and Nick).

A week after, launching, we were adding features from simple things like suggestions, threaded discussions, and automatic Yelp ratings. We built technology to determine the nature of URLs that were being Maybe’d  (yes, we invented words). For example, using the URL alone, we could determine that a site was for a hotel then automatically show a map of the area, best price, and traveler reviews/ratings.

Feature after feature, we always thought Maybe was one more away from the ideal. Meanwhile, initial launch sign ups dwindled and dailies were consistently down. Retention was also down, even amongst the team.

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This was bad. Did users not get it? Did we build too much? Did we overestimate the value prop of the product? The answer was all of the above. At the end of the day, the problem boiled down to retention.

Maybe wasn’t very good at retaining users. Initial users who went through the effort of creating a decision didn’t get enough value to make a second decision. Users who voted on a decision didn’t come back to make a decision or vote again. The time difference from when a user discovered Maybe and when they actually needed Maybe was too large.

We were wrong.

But, we had runway, an all-star team, we just needed a product so we pivoted and started on a new product. Then LinkedIn came calling.

At the time, our new product was in the midst of a beta and almost ready to launch. Our decision was between going to LinkedIn or go through with an official launch. We debated intensely, there were merits to both paths. We were at a crossroads.

Finally, after long discussions, Omar summed the decision up succulently, as he’s prone to do, “Startups are about expected value.” The expected value for the team by launching a new product was low since it was inherently high risk. Being acquired was near zero risk so naturally a higher expected value. LinkedIn is a fantastically run company, the team would stick together, and we would get to do what we do best; build kick ass products.

We decided to join LinkedIn and end the Maybe journey.

I can’t say what the team has been working on the last two months since it’s unannounced. However, LinkedIn is a tremendously focused company that we’re happy to be a part of.

Last week, we finally got around to having a small celebration in SF near the Giants’ ballpark. I’m definitely not the first to make a baseball analogy about startups but I think the following nicely sums it up….

We stepped up to the plate hoping to hit a home run. Instead, we hit a double, but that’s alright because most strike out. We’ll be at bat again. The game isn’t over.