Startup life Technology

We made it from zero to one – now we have help to get from one to ten.

Our reflections on ‘zero to one’ and announcing help we’re getting to go from ‘one to ten’

Getting from 1 to 10. Photo credit: Jon Tyson, from

Going from zero to one means bringing something entirely new into existence, and being lucky – or far-sighted – enough to have created something that a lot of people find useful enough to use and to share with friends.

Going from one to ten means taking that early success and figuring out to make it relevant and exciting for a much bigger group of people. It means identifying and fixing the ‘break points’ in the current product, and it means scaling the energy of the founding team to a much larger organization.

Today, I’m reflecting on our own ‘zero to one’ journey – in our case that’s getting to the symbolic one million weekly user milestone on the one year anniversary of our product launch. And we’re also announcing and celebrating a new partnership that will help us get from one to ten.

Mote from zero to one

In January 2020, Alex and I started work on the project that became Mote. By the time we launched Mote just over one year ago today, the World was gripped by the first wave of the Covid 19 pandemic, and we wondered just what this meant for our nascent startup.

We’ve been lucky – we got quite a few things right with our initial product idea, and we’ve been blessed with a fantastic community of users who shared their ideas for improving our product.

We’ve been frugal – we were largely self-sufficient for the first six months, and we only started paying ourselves once we started generating a meaningful amount of revenue, in September.

And, as we grew our revenue from sales, we were also able to hire brilliant team members with energy and expertise that complemented our own.

In getting from zero to one, we continued to refine our idea of what 10 or 100 might look like. In our case, we kept coming back to the key insight – Mote makes it easier to talk instead of type, and our users really like this. To get from one to ten, we will need to find more people, places and ‘jobs to be done’ where talking can be faster, better and more enjoyable than typing.

Mote from one to ten…and beyond!

Alex and I have always been confident that Mote has potential to become more than ‘just a feature’, that we are building something with real significance, however I’ve not always been very good at explaining this vision. That matters, because explaining the vision is really important in bringing brilliant people to work with us at Mote.

Telling the story and painting the bigger picture is also essential to attract the kinds of investors who are experienced at helping startups make the leap from one to ten. Today, I’m really excited to be announcing that we have secured partnership and investment from Craft Ventures, a top tier Venture Capital firm that believes in our mission, with a team that brings decades of experience in building startups through this phase of their growth.

With the funding we have received, we will be investing in growing our team and increasing our expertise to better serve the needs of our community. The funding gives us the additional capacity to address both the immediate top priorities of users and partners, as well as the longer term priorities that will help us meet the needs of both current and future users of Mote.

Some of the things we’ll be working on include…

  • Bringing a better Mote experience to mobile and tablet devices – starting with iOS
  • Integrating Mote into more products and ecosystems – starting with Microsoft
  • Better understanding and addressing ways to make Mote more useful every working day

For our users and customers, this means you’ve got a stronger partner in Mote – we have the resources to invest in serving you better than ever. We wouldn’t be here without the trust and kindness you’ve shown us so far, and we will be working very hard to win your continued support.

Most importantly, for our amazing team members, friends and early supporters, this investment is validation of the faith you placed in Mote and in its founders. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for taking the leap and for giving so much of your time and energy to this project – onwards! 🚀🌔✨

Startup life Technology

In defense of time together

As a passionately remote-first company, I’m occasionally caught in the apparent paradox of having to explain why spending some percentage of our time together in the same location is a necessary part of Mote’s operating model. In fact, it’s so important that my relocation to Europe this Summer was partly motivated by a strong sense that our company’s future depended on Alex and I being free to spend at least some percentage of time together, free from the spectre of enforced two-week quarantines.

Anyhow, this week Alex and I have been able to spend quality time together, working on a business-critical product release, planning out the next few months, and taking stock of our progress. And coincidentally all of this has been against a backdrop of beautiful Greek countryside, many shared meals and more than a few shared drinks.

So, why is time together so essential for high-functioning remote teams? Here’s my take:

  1. In startups, you tend to be working very hard towards a highly uncertain and amorphous goal. Success depends on founders’ – and early employees’ – ability to convince one another that this goal is attainable and highly desirable. Time together is a way to mutually re-commit to the mission and journey.
  2. Sustained periods of high-intensity work will cause unintended stresses and strains on any relationship. This is true both at home and amongst work colleagues, and both sets of stakeholders deserve a level of reinvestment.
  3. Some tasks really are much easier to undertake while colocated. Really complex or novel product specification, quickly iterating on user journeys and priorities…

Startup life

One million motes this month…

Yesterday I noticed that we’ve now passed a delightful new milestone – our users have created one million voice notes (‘motes’) using our product Mote so far in September. By contrast, we saw 392,000 voice notes created in August and 711,000 created in May – our highest previous month. In this post I wanted to disaggregate what’s driving our growth.

44,000 mote creators

The great majority of our mote creators are educators. They tell us that they love using Mote because it makes delivering feedback really fast – because they speak faster than they type, and because Mote integrates seamlessly into their workflow tools- and friendly, because students appreciate hearing their voice and seam to be more likely to respond and action verbal feedback.

7,350 hours of mote voice comments recorded

The average voice note is about 25 seconds, so we’ve seen over 7,000 hours of voice notes recorded so far this month.

315,000 mote listeners

The great majority of people listening to mote comments are students, accessing their teachers’ feedback either within their homework assignments (e.g. Google Docs or Google Classroom), or on our website. While the US leads with over 240,000 unique listeners, we have had mote listeners in 152 countries worldwide so far this month. We’ve invested heavily in student data privacy and security measures to win the trust of schools, teachers and students, so we’re really happy to see this level of engagement.

Scalable Tech

I feel it’s important to acknowledge that this kind of growth would only be possible with a scalable technology platform, and we’ve been very lucky to have integrated a set of highly scalable technologies. Co-founder CTO Alex will be writing a blog post on this topic very soon…

Thanks for reading!

Startup life

The future happened suddenly: how COVID19 has accelerated the future of work, entertainment and…

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Video conferencing, Slack, video streaming and app-based fitness: all were growing prior to the global Covid-19 pandemic, and were destined to be part of the future of work, entertainment and wellness. But this pandemic has created an unprecedented, irrevocable acceleration of trends that will now shape how we work and live for the next decade and beyond. Welcome to the accelerated future.

Accelerating the future of work

Over the past two years, there’s been a consistent trend in the startup landscape: no one has offices anymore. Startups are highly motivated to spend their cash wisely, and in cities like San Francisco and New York the cost of office space forced a re-think of the need for teams to co-locate in order to collaborate. VCs, meanwhile, have seen a growing number of successful globally distributed companies such as Automattic and GitLab, and had bought into distributed work as the new orthodoxy.

My own startup, mote, is a small, remote team, and we’ve been focused on creating tools for a future workplace that is largely remote and asynchronous. Without the Covid-19 pandemic, I believe that this future of work would have emerged slowly as more and more new companies proved that this model could deliver better results for employees, customers and investors. However, now I believe that we have seen 10 years of social workplace change condensed into 30 days.

Over the coming months, offices will reopen, campus canteens will once again hum to the sounds of artisanal pizza ovens, but the writing is on the wall. We’ll quickly see big companies relaxing their policies for remote work, actively incentivizing employees to work from home and closing satellite offices. We’ll see mid-sized companies walking away from their leases, and we’ll see small fast-growth, ‘natively distributed’ companies increasingly out-execute larger, older companies tied to their real estate footprints.

Accelerating the future of entertainment

I hope and believe that theaters, music venues and movie theaters will re-open after pandemic restrictions are removed. But I believe that anybody working in the entertainment industry will have to take seriously the risks of future disruption, and will have to build greater resilience into their craft. In the case of artists and performers, that will include providing for new ways to monetize fans / supporters directly through digital channels such as Twitch or StageIt. I’d love to see the world’s leading arts and culture festivals fully committing to building paid digital experiences, building a global audience for culture in the same way the Guardian and the BBC have built global audiences for news.

Accelerating the future of wellness

Home workout experiences date back at least to Jane Fonda’s iconic fitness videos in the 1980s; outdoor cycling has been growing at around 6% per annum in recent years; and, over the past few years, an abundance of meditation and mindfulness apps has enabled us to work independently on our mental health.

But the pandemic has suddenly introduced many millions more people to the habit of using digital wellness tools and resources. These habits will prove hard to shake. We can expect to see many local and national health & fitness brands going into administration as a result of the pandemic, though I hope we’ll also see innovation in the sector and the emergence of more wellness models that blend group & individual, physical & digital.

Winners and losers

In the face of the human trauma that this pandemic will wreak, it is ghoulish and insensitive to talk about ‘silver linings’ or ‘growth opportunities’ that the pandemic creates. However, the optimistic outlook is that this terrible period will result in some changes that will leave our planet better able to address the slow-burning climate crisis, and to build more resilience into our public and private infrastructure.

There will be winners in the arenas of work, entertainment and wellness. Hopefully not just the familiar tech giant players of today, but also a new breed of private and public organizations that can help the human race rethink how we work, play and create together with greater sustainability and resilience.

Startup life

Five things I’ve learned in my first month hustlin’ outside the corporate bubble…

After years of repeated and rationalized postponement I am, for the first time, making a sustained effort to start a business of my own. Here’s five things I’ve learned in my first month hustlin’ as a wannabe entrepreneur:

There’s a back story to this leaving gift, that’s all I’ll say
  1. Play to all my strengths.

It’s a far safer bet for both me and my potential investors to start up a business in an area that I already know well than in an area that I have a crush on.

For some time I’d been kicking around an idea for a start-up in the booming fitness-tech area, which I’m really passionate about, especially since my Ironman adventures last year. However as I talked to friends and advisors it became really clear that this would be a much steeper hill to climb than focusing on an area where I have more direct working experience. So that’s where I’m now focused — in digital music and entertainment.

2. Diversity breeds creativity.

Working with co-founders with complementary skills, experiences and styles can sometimes feel like hard work, but it’s ultimately how the magic happens.

I’ve been fortunate to quickly join up with two co-founders who bring tremendous skills and experience. There’s no way that any one of us alone would have been able to piece together the approach to the opportunity that we’re pursuing, but as a team we’ve been able to quickly find a pattern of working where we challenge and build upon one another’s thinking. We’re still iterating rapidly, but I think we may be onto something really cool.

3. The simple joy of doing vs leading.

It’s exhilarating to get into a flow state of actual work, re-connecting with the skills that built the foundation of my career.

Over the past few years, as I stepped more into more senior leadership roles, I spent less and less time actually creating my own end-deliverables, such as complex analyses and written documents, and more time giving direction, feedback and coaching. I love leading teams, and all the trappings of senior leadership, but I had forgotten how much I enjoy rapidly learning in depth about an emerging technology area, building business models and hungrily pursuing deals.

4. There’s nothing but upside in faking it until we make it.

Any start-up is a first-of-its kind experiment, and while there’s plenty of value in applying accumulated experience, there’s no way that even a well-qualified and balanced founder team can have all of the skills and experience needed to succeed. Without losing the fact-focus and humility, we have to be willing to dream and to sell ourselves as well as our opportunity.

5. My family are both drivers and passengers on this journey with me.

I now know that my health and happiness depends on my family understanding and supporting the start-up journey that we’re on. My wife has given unfailing encouragement and support as I’ve set off on this route, and been a fantastic sounding board. And when I cheerfully briefed them on cash flow restrictions, (no ski trip this year!), my kids didn’t blink. They are eager to hear the latest on my venture and to offer their feedback and ideas. I feel very lucky and I’m very motivated to repay my family’s faith in me.