Sramana: Did you build the entire project yourself or did you hire people to help you?
Paras Chopra: I paid about 50,000 rupees for a website design. I did a very basic product design myself. I launched the website on Hacker News, and the feedback I received was horrible. Nobody understood what I was trying to do. I called it a conversion rate real-time optimization platform, and nobody understood what that meant. I was caught in the trap of having an engineer’s mindset. The various algorithms I was using came very naturally to me, but they did not mean a lot to anyone else.
I also gave very little though regarding the usability of the product. If you were to log in to the product, you would see at least 25 to 30 options. I thought that it would be good to have as many options as possible. I did not realize that this was going to overwhelm and intimidate people. Overall the product launch was a very good learning opportunity for me. It was a bit disheartening because I had worked so hard and all of my past projects had failed as well.
Sramana: How did you bounce back from that situation? Did you still have your job?
Paras Chopra: I still had my job although I was living a very crazy life. I was living at one end of Delhi and commuting to the other end of the city for work. I was wasting 4 hours a day in commute time.
I could have just given up, but I realized that the feedback was actually quite relevant. The good thing about Hacker News is that the feedback is very good. I was able to derive a lot of knowledge from it. They told me that I had too many options or that my terminology was too complex. This helped me refocus the product.
I decided that it would be best if I did not try to attack the problem in its entirety. Instead I decided to focus on just one area and keep it simple. I ended up scraping all of the code I had written. I called my second version Visual Website Optimizer. I wanted to learn from all of the mistakes that I had made. I chose to use A/B testing as the focus area. There was a free tool from Google at that time for website optimization but it had very poor user reviews. It was very difficult to use. It required separate versions of your website in order to use it. There were also some high end commercial tools that had subscriptions that cost thousands of dollars.
I felt that this created the opportunity to create a very simple, easy to use, A/B testing tool that could be offered at an affordable rate. I wrote the tool in one month. I used so many hacks to write this version that you would not believe it. I did not even put in a proper design or logo. I bought a $5 website theme and used that for my app. I used the typical structure of a SaaS package from 37signals.com. I did not reinvent a lot of things.