I won’t lie — finding the energy to sit down and pen this post has taken a lot longer than usual, mostly because I’ve spent most of what little energy that I do have crying all over myself.
Don’t worry, I’ll be okay. We all will.
For those that appreciate a more direct approach (i.e. ripping off the bandaid-style) I’ll come at you straight: I have decided to lead the company in an entirely different direction and I’m closing most of what we’ve built together by year’s end.
Note the specific and intentional use of the words
together; that’s because the decision ultimately fell upon my shoulders, even though we all invested an incredible amount of time and resources over the last few years.
So, if you’d like someone to be mad at, you can direct that at me because I’d be the right person to field it.
Some folks in startup world might call this a “pivot” and they wouldn’t be wrong — there won’t be much left of the old company when we’re done putting things away properly.
And that hurts my heart terribly.
When my brother and I first started our work together in early-2017 it was obviously much different than what it became and what it is today — we we’re literally fucking around in his garage with some video gear, a growing community that loved what we loved, and a vague pipe dream that we’d build something “cool”.
And it was so much fun. We found a small group of folks who had no problem sharing their opinions (and lives) with us as we dialogued, argued, and even convened in larger settings, breaking bread in some of our favorite Korean BBQ joints across the globe.
This isn’t what we thought would happen but it ended up being exactly what we needed.
My brother led the charge, taking the initiative to meet many of you IRL in an effort to learn and grow with you, together. Even he was surprised at how many of these encounters blossomed into real and wonderful friendships:
You see, what we discovered in the first iteration of our journey together was that
decentralization was not some ephemeral idea or un-relatable technology; it was a connector, a model of how communities and relationships really form, a healthy and productive counter to the disease and destruction that
web 2.0 has created as its incessant focus on
metadata (e.g. likes, retweets, follows, etc) continues to pollute our world.
We came together because we shared similar beliefs; we stayed for the real, authentic relationships and we believe that what we had was unique, precious, and extremely rare.
Today, our community is strong and it includes folks that would have never shared a conversation together, let alone a meal. How cool is that?
We proved that time and time again over the years as we invested in each other, spent time and personal resources to visit in-the-real. A quick trip down memory lane at some of our larger community events elicit quite a lot of emotion for me:
And these were just the ones that were “official” — our community gathered together many more times in all sorts of mediums and geographies, building life-long friendships that have given our team immense joy and pride. Everyone benefited from what we all had built, together.
You know, it’s really hard to believe that what started with a small YouTube Channel, a Lamborghini as a fun, tongue-in-cheek marketing centerpiece, and a handful of passionate
#hodlers would eventually form the basis of a venture-backed technology company that would go on to serve thousands of folks, worldwide!
It’s also just as hard to imagine that it’s all coming to an end.
Shortly after launching the first YouTube Channel and realizing that Peter, namely, had a lock on person-market fit, we immediately began constructing the foundation of a legitimate business.
This meant, in short, that we needed to figure out a way to make more money than what we were currently spending.
Besides making perfectly logical sense we also knew that if we couldn’t find a way to financially support the growing costs of a community that we wouldn’t have one, period.
So we all got to work and we built a ton of software based on our own community’s needs and feedback, from forum software to full-native news readers (web and iOS), market capitalization websites, notification systems, and an assortment of smaller tools — we had an absolute field day with all of you, building software that was meaningful, useful, and fun.
We practiced the fine art of transparency along the way, sharing our motivations and reasons for lightly introducing monetization experiments to simply cover the growing infrastructure costs.
We launched an experiment with Patreon to get more direct financial support — hell, they even did a feature on our wonderful and amazing community!
And life was good. Until it wasn’t.
Every story has its heroes (and villains) and every hero, inevitably, will make direction-changing decisions for the story to continue. We made a few of those and we’ve tried our best to count the cost every step of the way.
And only time will tell if history treats us (and me) kindly; either as heroes or as villains — I’m ready for both.
One of the decisions that I made earlier in the process was to transform our scrappy, bootstrapped project into a fast-moving, venture-backed startup.
As much as I would love to fully detail the exact decision-tree that I worked through when coming to this particular outcome it’s not overly-useful nor interesting.
But, what is important is that I fundamentally changed the project’s trajectory, setting a clear and purpose-driven path: Become a legit, profitable business,
fast, so that we all could take advantage of the excitement surrounding our industry and our early traction.
That was my decision, my call.
I began taking conversations with interested parties in late 2017, right around the time that we realized that we’d blow past 1,000 new community members in just a single week. By Q2 of 2018, I had secured our first commitment and we were off to the races.
We started small, touching base with investors that had, in the past, supported previous venture-backed projects. Our track record spoke for itself and we eventually put together a little more than
$4.1M in venture financing, spread across two rounds from sophisticated partners who knew us and, more importantly, understood that they were investing in more than just a “technology platform” — it was a living, breathing community.
This may be new news for many of you and that’s by design: Raising money, although a significant event in an early-stage company’s life, is just the starting point and making “a lot of noise” about these events isn’t laced with a ton of utility (later-stage rounds can be used more strategically).
So I told the team that we’d keep this particular business news quiet as we walked into what would become
YEN 2.0, our second iteration to date.
[Although a few of you were able to extract that information from us because we like you all a lot!]
Our pitch was simple:
- We need more fuel to go faster because what we’ve done is working (and it’s great fun)! We had found our “tribe” and wanted to build even more cool stuff for them.
- We were looking for financial partners that understood this point at a fundamental level.
Courageous and forward-thinking angel investors joined our fight and firms like CherubicVC, HustleFund, Sterling Road, and even big public companies came calling (LINE Corp) because of what we had built together.
We said “yes” to fair and favorable terms thus giving us the time (but not too much) to figure out how we could transform what we had into something even more impactful.
And the last few years have been our attempt to make good on our promises and commitments to our financial partners and all of you: That we’d consistently deliver real value in the form of education, insight, and ethically–designed software.
Unfortunately, we failed.
A startup is an exercise in binary thinking — you know, ones and zeroes. It’s like a light switch: On or off, either it works or it doesn’t. There isn’t a middle-ground or room for half-measures. In startup parlance, you’re either
Default: Alive or
Default: Dead. Choose one.
This is especially true of venture-backed companies.
If 2017 was the year of “OMG… what the fuck are we doing?!” then 2018 was the year of “I think we know what we’re doing!” which was followed by “Shit… that’s not actually working.” in 2019.
Take a deep breath. Swallow hard. That sick feeling? That’s the feeling of running out of money. Sobering as fuck.
When we began the 2019 calendar year our team knew that this was the “proving” season, we needed to clearly show that we could take our initial concepts and fortify them into a repeatable business that would generate more money than what we modestly spent on operations, salaries, and our technology infrastructure.
And you all stuck with us, helping us build something we can all be proud of, providing us invaluable data on what worked, what didn’t, and how we could make it even better.
In the most difficult times it was many of your private, personal notes that kept our team going — a light, and seemingly random “ping” or note of encouragement gave us more than enough lift to continue our collective march forward.
And as the horizon line that separates 2019 from 2020 got closer, I knew that I would, again, have to make another big, business and life-altering decision.
This blog post is that decision.
When I first heard the popular truism “Change is the only constant” I, like you, nodded my head in agreement. I wish that they had given me the kindness of adding a much-needed point of clarification: “Change is often painful.”
I apologize for how sterile the following may read, but, in an attempt to be absolutely clinical and clear, here is what I’ve decided to do with the remaining time that we have to build a working and viable business:
http://beta.yen.iois permanently closing down at the end of this year, December 31st, 2019. If you’d like an archive (e.g.
.zipfile) of your posts and content, please email me directly and I’ll work on getting that to you by year’s end.
DCTV(YouTube Channel) will be re-purposed to support our new direction and no longer be available to the community. We will have more info on the larger transition plan soon but in the meantime we want you to know that we plan on providing an opportunity for you to share and promote your own individual projects on the channel in December (so get ready!). If you’d like copies (we haven’t removed anything yet!) of your uploaded videos for your own channel, I can also work on delivering those to you but please provide a list of specific videos in an email and I’ll work on that for you.
There are a lot of “moving parts”, as you might imagine, but these are the two larger properties that impact the majority of our community members.
So, what is staying the same? Great question:
- The Bitcoin Pub will stick around as it still helps a lot of people every single day. Free content like #B90X have helped thousands of folks and there’s no reason to stop free education! The same goes for micro-sites like 10 Days of Bitcoin and the associated newsletter.
- Our name,
YEN, is strong and our new-ish branding was serendipitously-timed. Our new product will retain the name, brand, and marketing sites like
http://yen.ioas well as social accounts like @yen_io.
Great — now that we’re clear with all of that, I’m sure you’re wondering where I’m taking the company next, which will effectively be our third iteration:
- We’re taking all of our learning from the last 2.5+ years in the decentralized universe and focusing all of our engineering efforts on the
analytics platformthat we had already started working on inside the last version of our product. Our aim is to provide real, actionable insight into the financial health and purchasing power of your distributed community in a single, unified dashboard. Many of you actually test-drove some of this in the
Groupsfeature on the last release.
- Our ideal customer are startups (of all sizes!) that use social platforms (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, and more) to drive revenue and business growth. If that’s of interest, stay updated with launch info here.
- Yup, we’re formally leaving the
#defispace to serve a much broader customer base (i.e. businesses that care about leveraging the data in and around their communities). This doesn’t mean that we won’t serve blockchain companies; it just means that we’re not exclusively serving crypto co’s.
- It’s a boring (but profitable!) model: B2B SaaS.
Here’s some very early concepts that I whipped up in my notebook:
I’m excited. I’m scared. And, if I’m to be completely honest, I’m anxious about what you all will say and think of me because I really care about you and your opinions matter to me.
And, it only makes sense that I would handle this personally, making it my absolute
top priority, especially since these outcomes were based on the decisions that I made (with the support of my incredible team).
[To be technically and historically accurate, it was my brother’s baby before it was even mine.]
My email inbox is open for business. Please be kind but don’t hold back — I can take it and I love you.
The hardest thing about working through a real startup pivot is the fact that there are real lives being impacted by these decisions. Real people with real needs and families to support.
I’ve had to say goodbye to friends that I’ve known for a long time; friends who helped build this dream with me together.
All of you are included in that, by the way, and I can’t thank you all enough for what you’ve done for me, my brother, our small team, and our families. If anything, our community has revitalized my belief and hope that technology, when used wisely and empathetically, can still change lives.
Faith in humanity, restored.
So, where do we all go from here? Some of us may feel inclined to stick around and join us on a very different adventure and direction while many of you, I imagine, will take what we’ve learned together and apply that to your own startups, projects, and communities. Peter, for instance, has already booted his up (go figure)!
And, of course, we’re here to help.
Do you see it? We do. To infinity and Bitcoin.