ProofPilot’s Steps Towards Radical Transparency
Radical transparency describes actions and approaches that open organizational processes and data. Startups like Buffer share top financial info and specific department-wide results every quarter. YouTube stars, Kara and Nate, publish quarterly results as the travel the world with their video cameras.
I run a startup. ProofPilot is a platform to design, launch and manage research studies. We’re democratizing techniques that used to need a multi-million dollar grant. I’ve toyed with being “radically open” in the past. In May 2016, ProofPilot took a big step towards radical transparency. I published an op-ed piece in VentureBeat about how the typical startup play-book almost killed us. It remains one of the most shared articles I’ve ever written.
While that article was open and honest, let’s be real. It was a momentary publicity stunt. It generated awareness and chatter for a couple of months. I shared it with some enterprise customers who weren’t sure we understood how complex our field is. It helped generate credibility.
But, in the two and a half years since, we haven’t shared much. Why? It’s scary. At ProofPilot, we’re not ready to share our quarterly income results (yet). And due to research privacy considerations (and customer proprietary information), we can’t share every research finding.
But, I remain interested in the concept of radical transparency. Here are my hangups and fears and the strategies we plan to put into place to overcome them in 2019.
Will financial results reduce our credibility? Like many private companies, ProofPilot is very tight lipped about our revenue and expenses. We often operate on financial fumes. While we did raise some VC money, the amount was very modest. We keep our expenses really low.
Our customers have very long sales cycles and slow payment processes. We’ve taken on an extremely complex problem. In doing so, we’ve collected user feedback over many years — but are only just now getting to a point where real revenue is a reality.
So, our numbers are small — and likely will be for a while. We’re building for the long term in space that measures projects in decades.
I wonder, will sharing our modest financial results reduce our credibility among potential multi-billion dollar customers? My sense is it might. So, we’re going to start with being radically transparent about our business model, goals and our pricing.
In the clinical trial field, sharing how much something costs, publically on a website is unusual. As we make our position clear, our revenue numbers will have more context.
Will the competition copy us? ProofPilot’s goal is to up-end an entire industry. The industry has a couple of incumbents in both the private industry and academia. These organizations have significant resources and a large customer base. But they haven’t innovated in years or even decades. Likewise, there are a couple of other startups in the space with significantly more funding than ProofPilot.
ProofPilot takes a participant-centered, consumer design-focused approach to our product. We know some competition watches us. As we gain traction we expect they’ll pay even more attention. Will sharing our marketing plan or product road map make it easy to copy us?
ProofPilot is democratizing techniques. In 2015 we decided to make ProofPilot open and available to any user who wanted a 14-day trial. We’ve seen every competitor in the field come in and kick the tires. They know how difficult what we’ve accomplished is and they’re not ready (or perhaps even able) to replicate.
Will that change as we continue to chip away at some of their marquee customers? Likely. But success in our space is in the details. Starting today we will share our product roadmap and marketing plan. But, we’ll keep the designs and specific approaches more closely guarded until we’re ready to release.
Will anyone care? ProofPilot is a small company. In this media environment, it can feel like Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google are the only tech companies that matter. Will the time required to report be worth it?
Very early on, ProofPilot created a business plan. Like many startups, we moved much faster than any written plan could keep up with. We haven’t written a traditional business plan since.
That’s probably not a good thing. ProofPilot’s approach, mission and business strategy is more consistent today.
We have staff around the world. They care. I care. If it’s just the handful of ProofPilot crew members that review our performance and operations, that in itself is really powerful.
And beyond that … it would only take one person to get in touch with a solution to a challenge we’ve reported to make the effort worthwhile.
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