Account of Walking Away From a Product He Spent a Year Building

This is a well-written account of what was undoubtedly a painful decision. Derrick spent a year trying to make and market a Slack alternative that dealt with what he perceived to be problems with Slack:

Small teams (who have a much easier time making the jump due to their size) didn’t seem that compelled by Level. In follow-up conversations, I discovered that Slack was at most a minor annoyance for them. Suboptimal? Yes. Worth going through the trouble of switching? Probably not.

Every large team I spoke to had an exceptionally high bar and was unwilling to entertain Level until it was significantly more “mature.” They are the ones who need Level the most, and yet it was looking like I wouldn’t have a shot at converting them without months (or years) of development work.

I feel his pain, having also closed down a couple of products on which I spent lots of time but without achieving traction.


I can understand that this happened to Derek. It’s hard. However I was really surprised that he did not know/use the Mom Test book, or another book resource like “Roadmanp to Revenue” (by K Zhivago) or the “switch decision canvas” from the Job-to-be-done framework. These tools are very well suited to uncover what customers really want.

He did. He mentioned it in the article.

Yes, he mentioned it, and said he used after he failed to get customers. That was too late.

Obviously it’s easy to comment on this afterwards, I might have made the same mistake.

Never heard of “Mom test”. I’ve got a basic idea from a summary but I’ll read it fully of course.

What’s strange to me, is that he got considerable initial traction. Even if he didn’t ask exactly the right questions, he talked to 50 people, later got 6000 signups, even got prepayments! These are not small numbers and they tell me there must be demand for better, or just different Slack. It looks more to me like he underestimated feature set he needed to build and the time it would take.

it was looking like I wouldn’t have a shot at converting them without months (or years) of development work.

Months or even years don’t seem that unreasonable time span for a complex product. Entirely different question was whether Derrick was prepared for that. Problem with Slack is it doesn’t look that complex on a first glance. I saw enough “I could build a Slack over a weekend” comments on Hacker News. I never used Slack, but it has to be harder than that, considering multi-user, real-time, search, files, GUI, etc. aspects of it.

I don’t mean to bash Derrick. Estimating is hard. I’m programming for a living for 20 years, and I still regularly underestimate by a factor of two or three, even after I already doubled my estimate at the start.

1 Like

“The Mom Test” fits in the category of “full-length book that should have just been a blog post”.

The underlying idea is very good, though: that it is hard to get honest, realistic feedback about your idea from people. Mostly they’ll say encouraging words and they’ll be agreeable.

1 Like

There are soooo many of them. There has to be a site doing ‘cliff notes’ where they distill the key points into a single page…

1 Like

That traction was, to a large extent, due to his co-working on Drip. At least this is how I found out about him and later about Level. So the large Rob’s audience provided the numbers of curious bystanders whom Derek mistakenly took for people in pain.

+1. I feel he rushed to walk away.

In big companies, it takes a good part of a year only to discuss the potential products to buy. The only exception I’ve seen, curiously, was with Slack, but not to embrace its use, but to ban it (disconnect people from the corporate account) because the bill for a month(?) turned out to be over a million CAD (there are many, many developers) and the management wasn’t ready for that.

Now the alternative is being developed in house. It is far from Slack’s functionality. If Derek provided a white-label product, he could compete - at least on functional and price level. Support, roadmap, integration is a different story.

Well, all in all, he only lost a year.

There are. For almost every title “X” on Amazon Kindle there is a self-published “X Summary” that gives you the same ideas in a few pages. No such summary for Mom’s Test presently, alas.

So, who can summarize The Mom’s Test here in two paragraphs? Interested in actionable advice, mostly.

I found these 5-min to read slides:

Didn’t read the book yet to say whether this is all there’s to see :slight_smile:



So the essence of it, as I understood it, is:

  • Find out how the prospect solves the problem now
  • What options have they tried
  • What is the impact for them of not solving the problem (meh vs. a disaster)
  • Who saves/makes money from the solution (i.e. who pays for it)

Only things that were actually tried are valid data points. As such, the proposed solution is not a valid data point - so don’t speak about it until the sales phase.

I have a page with summary of “mom test” as well as links to youtube talks of the author on the same topic, so you can just watch the talks instead of reading the book.

1 Like

Great! Thanks.

(I bought the book anyway - to pay back to the guy for the lesson I’ve got.)

Here is a great podcast interview with the author of the mom test: . That interview made me buy the book.

1 Like

Mostly they’ll say encouraging words and they’ll be agreeable.

One of the things I learned at the Founder Institute was to give people permission to say negative things.

You can do this in your question - never ask someone what do you think of this?

Ask them things like what do you dislike about this idea? or is there anything about this that would stop you using it?

A good ice breaker is the What products do you know that you think compete with this? because then you can ask about their experience with such products and pain points.

1 Like

I listened to a few of the early podcasts where he talked about Level and so was utterly unsurprised to hear it was shut down.

This was not long after Atlassian conceded that Slack had beaten not only HipChat but also their own more directly-engineered Slack competitor Stride.

The only way he could have made it succeed, IMVHO, was to have an early Hero Site which would be big enough to be credible, fund development and success there be convincing for others.

1 Like