How Google helped us fail early, fail fast

The end of Askabt and Scrollback beginnings  as narrated by Gaurav Srivastava, Co-founder, Scrollback

“So what’s the story behind Scrollback?” We are often asked this question. Our answers always vary from investors to users to friends, depending on who is asking. However, if I have to really scroll back to how it all began, this is how the story would pan out: An unexpected google announcement, two anxious co-founders, a timely pivot, 10 sleepless nights and an impending demo day!

The Google Announcement

In March 2013, my co-founder Aravind and I entered the three - month JFDI Accelerator Program in Singapore. We were building a community-powered real-time Q&A platform called Askabt. Having used most of the accelerator seed funding in building the product, the JFDI demo day was probably our only opportunity to pitch to over 130 early-stage Singapore investors and get their interest, or even better, their money.

We were confident about the product as we had an active user base with a few paying customers. And then, ten days prior to Demo day, our product fell apart. Google announced its unified messaging service, Hangouts. It announced that Hangouts, which does not support XMPP, will replace the only major service that did - Google Talk. This was a major blow to Askabt, which relied on XMPP to reach users.

This announcement meant that Google talk would die a slow death as users clicked “try the new Hangouts”, taking Askabt down with it as well. There was no way we could go on stage on demo day and pitch a product with a rapidly dwindling addressable market. In short, we had to pivot. And we had to pivot fast.

Reset: Scrollback Beginnings

We got back to the whiteboard to strategize on what we would do next. We did know two things – First, like Askabt, we wanted to build a tool for community conversations and the second, piggybacking on third party platforms had inherent risks. We needed to control the last mile delivery.

We had an amazing group of mentors who got down to help us brainstorm and analyse the probable direction our new product should take. One recurring theme that came out of all our discussions was that currently ‘the feeling of being present’ was missing in online communities. In other words, real time chat conversations between communities was somewhat missing. Our new product would try to fill this gap. The next big question was whether we build a tool that communities use or take the risky, long –term bet of being the place where they exist. We chose the latter, and Scrollback was born.

Beyond Demo Day

In ten days, we’d managed to hack together a surprisingly functional prototype of Scrollback, a new go-to-market strategy focusing on technology communities before expanding to the mainstream, and a new investor pitch. Investor interest on demo day was very encouraging. However, we were not yet ready to follow up with investors as we had a half-baked product and no traction to show.

We calculated that by being really frugal, our money would last us through the end of September. We scheduled our follow-up meetings with investors in September, and decided to use those three months to build the product and get some traction. This was cutting it really close. We would have to close funding within weeks of our first meeting or we weren't going to be able to pay the bills.

We built and launched the product by the second week of August. To our enormous good fortune, Mozilla India loved it and added it to their website and IRC channel. The day before our first investor meetings two more Mozilla communities started using Scrollback. These three, in addition to a dozen or so smaller communities, gave us something to put on the “Traction” slide of our deck.

Our first two angel investors were mentors who had seen us throughout the JFDI program. Their vote of confidence was a massive boost, and came at what was possibly the most critical point in our journey. Soon afterwards, Jungle Ventures decided to join and lead the round. With three more angel investors, we’re fortunate to have a seed round composed entirely of people with lots of domain expertise and whom we trust would be great mentors.

One year of Scrollback

In the last one year, we have expanded our presence to over 700 communities in America, Europe and Asia. We will soon release our mobile app that will take us closer to our vision of redefining real time community conversations. We have made mistakes, learnt from them and come out of it even better than before. We leave you with our story, as we buckle up for the next leg of the Scrollback journey.