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Reflecting on what matters most

July 27, 2020 By: Luna Yu

This post is also available in: Français (French)

Q2 presented a unique opportunity for us to slow down, reflect on what matters most, and take steps in re-directing our focus. It helped us recognize critical things we’ve overlooked in the past year. One of these things is maintaining a fanatic drive to better understand our customers.

Since inception, we have gone through many adjustments to our business model and target customers. A few months after we started in late 2017, we had the idea that our technology could be fitted into an on-site machine for restaurants to process their food waste into PHAs. It sounded exciting and matched the trend of “decentralized robotics” at the time. However, to prevent mechanical damage, restaurant staff were required to sort non-organics out of their compost bin before disposing into the machine. We brainstormed ways to incentivize restaurant staff to do so— monetary rewards and gamification.

Confident in our ideas, I presented to our advisory board. After my enthusiastic speech, an advisor who had decades of experience in the restaurant industry, remained silent. He calmly looked me in the eye and said, “Luna, have you ever worked a day in a restaurant?” I replied “no.” He continued: “Then I think you should, the answer will be clear once you do.” Still confident in my idea, I reluctantly agreed.

As the winter holidays were around the corner, I found a busy restaurant who generously agreed to take me on as a dishwasher for a week. I thought, “This should be a piece of cake — I’ll just zoom through the dishes and sort compost after.” Three hours into my shift, I realized just how wrong I was. My whole body ached and I struggled to keep up with the piling dishes. The following days were no different, leaving no time or energy to sort compost thereafter.

This crushing experience was exactly what I needed. While I was having a blast coming up with theoretically “revolutionary” ideas, reality remained a different picture. In hindsight, our team also heeded warnings throughout, which I arrogantly brushed aside. Since then, we’ve made great advancements by listening to customers to structure our business to better fit their needs.

Nonetheless, I’ve forgotten this lesson after raising a seed round last year. I thought, “Look at all this validation, we’ve got this all figured out. We just need to scale and enhance our technology now.” Boy, was I wrong again.

Fortunately, going through the YC program in Q1 forced us to re-engage with our target customers. I was shocked by how little I knew compared to how much I thought I knew. In Q2, we’ve further zoomed in on one niche target market and dug in deeper. Significant data surfaced pertaining to our product features, integration feasibility, cost-risk parity, and long-term performance. And once again, we were just scratching the surface. There’s lots more to uncover in the coming quarters in refining product market fit. The journey never ends and we’re glad to be back on track again.

Luna Yu