by Peter Butler
Since graduating as part of Rady’s fulltime class of 2014, I’ve run 2,464.6 miles as of this writing according to my GPS watch. It sounds like a lot but that’s only 4.13 miles per day on the days I can actually get out of bed on time. I’ve never really considered myself a “runner” but I’m fairly certain 4.13 miles a day means I am one.
I generally run in the mornings before work – I just don’t have the energy at night when I get back from my day job. Most mornings are a struggle. Between the sleepiness, the cold fog and the steep San Francisco hills ahead of me, getting out of bed always feels like a chore. After the first mile though, my sleep addled brain starts to turn on and the world starts to feel warmer. Getting started is the hardest part.
Many startup founders feel the same way about getting started (probably sleep too); I know I did when trying to figure out where to dig in on my startup Bubbl. Bubbl is an iPhone app that maps live activities and events to help people discover fun things happening around them in real-time and it took me years to take the first committing step. My co-founder and I met while I was at Rady and Bubbl is now live in the Apple App Store.
For those into the startup thing, the act of “getting started” has been jargonized by the industry. One of the more popular renditions, invented by PayPal co-founder and recent politico, Peter Thiel, is “going from 0 to 1”. He even wrote a book about how difficult it can be to get the ball rolling on projects, which I poured over in search of a silver bullet to overcome my inertia. Lab to Market’s “business model canvas”, was a helpful exercise but also failed to kick start Bubbl.
At one point, I thought committing money might be the catalyst I needed but after buying an overpriced domain and negotiating with development studios, I wasn’t much closer to having a working app. After years of false starts, Nike, manufacturer of my running shoes, offered the most helpful advice. Their cheesy call-to-action had been staring up at me during morning runs for thousands of miles: “Just Do It”.
It sounds simple and it is! Pick a place to start, any place, and just do it. Mark Suster, UCSD alum and venture capitalist coined a similar, less politically correct term, shortened to JFDI (I’ll let you figure that one out). In any case, Nike, Mark, they’re right. The day I realized it’s that simple I committed myself, designed the first prototype and started interviewing anyone that would talk to me about Bubbl and event discovery. I planned my personal routines for the next six months around working on Bubbl during evenings and weekends and set about finding a co-founder (aka someone who could build it).
I met Greg Hoover, an engineering and robotics teacher at Jacobs during the fall quarter of my first year at Rady. A professor knew another professor who knew this guy at Jacobs who might know some someone else – the usual networking hopscotch. Greg and I met up at Peet’s near Rady and hit it off immediately. We wouldn’t work together for another two years but we became good friends. We discovered how much easier it is to chat about technology hypotheticals in the Stone Brewery beer garden than it is to actually start something. The inertia of starting a new project can be powerful.
Nevertheless, we did get started. Our ultimate goal is to make connecting people with their local communities easier and more fun. While at Rady, I commuted to Santa Barbara weekends to spend time with my-now-wife and she would often train down to San Diego. As busy grad students, we weren’t much for planning ahead and were generally discouraged by our options for finding fun things to do in the moment. Greg and his wife are also very active in San Diego so the Bubbl concept resonated.
Now it’s been just over a year and we’ve launched Bubbl version 2.0. We recently began experimenting at UC San Diego, incorporating campus events onto the Bubbl map thanks to the UCSD Communications office, and we have a small but loyal following in San Diego and in the Bay Area. With the rise of ephemeral apps and the increased focus on experiences by younger generations, Bubbl is at the intersection of a burgeoning crossroads. Time will tell whether we’re here to stay but app usage is looking good so far and we wouldn’t be anywhere had we not figured out that all we needed to do was pick a place to start. Someone on Reddit recently asked me how to get started on an idea he had. I couldn’t help but quote him the Nike slogan.
Of course, getting started is just the beginning of a steep road ahead but one challenge at a time, right?
Peter Butler (MBA ’14) is a Product Manager living in the San Francisco Bay Area. He co-founded Bubbl as a personal project with Greg Hoover in 2015. Prior to Bubbl, he co-founded another tech company, and has worked in venture capital, entertainment, and technology. Greg is the founder of multiple iOS applications, the head of engineering at a local San Diego tech company, and teaches engineering and robotics courses at UC San Diego. Learn more at www.bubbl.co or get the iOS app in the App Store.