A fork in the road
I started working on DevRaven, a synthetic monitoring platform in March 2022. I was able to get the MVP up and running by July 2022. The MVP functionality was based on my conversations with friends and my past experiences which can save time with quicker regression testing cycles between releases.
From July to October of 2022, most of my time was spent talking to prospective customers, and investors and building more features that would help differentiate the product. Though we were able to get a decent number of B2C signups, we could not break into enough B2B customers. While B2C customers are great to understand how the product is being used, B2B deals are critical for the survival of any enterprise startup.
Few reasons why the product could not break into enterprise accounts:
Enterprise sales cycles take several weeks with complex Vendor Risk Assessment processes. It's just impossible for a startup to break into enterprises unless the product is super hot or in an entirely new segment. In our case, our product was not differentiative enough compared to well-established products in the market.
Even in large enterprises where we had contacts, we were unable to sell to the expected levels. I think this is mainly because of the tech slump and the bad economy. Teams do not want to try some new monitoring tool when they are losing jobs and budgets are being cut everywhere.
We were able to get some small enterprises and B2C customers to signup and use the product. However, with the SKU price so low for non-enterprise customers it's just impossible to build a sustainable business with just those customers. In the end, monitoring is a brutal business to be in. The segment is super competitive and just too hard to build a business as a small startup with the same features as existing established vendors.
We could take investor money and fuel the growth. But even if we burn money on ads to get more sign-ups, it felt like we don't have the right product-market fit and we were not confident that spending money to fuel growth is good use of investor money. Ultimately, we declined to take investment from interested investors. By December 2022, it was pretty clear that DevRaven is not a viable business.
Since then I looked into multiple businesses and products and ultimately decided on building an open-source integration platform, cptn.io. Open-source may sound as if like I am doing charity, but open-source products can also be viable businesses (e.g. Posthog).
Some other experiences that led me to this open-source path are:
There is more willingness from developers to try open-source products instead of using closed-source products from small startups.
An open-source, permissible license helps quicker adoption. You get immediate feedback as there are no VRA/legal barriers that prevent the adoption of product at enterprises.
Building a community around the product is super important for any platform. Community helps you build and grow the product if it's saving time for people.
Building a startup is like running a marathon - it's great, the experience is amazing, but at the same time, it's draining. It sucks everything physically, and mentally and you want to quit several times, but still, push ahead until you reach the finish line or you are out of juice.