So when did I get the initial idea that eventually became Mokabla?
In a previous lifetime I worked as an investment banker. During this period I always found myself envious of those whom I advised. Why? Because they were entrepreneurs – creative, founders of movements and visionaries. When I looked at them, I felt inspired, when I looked at myself, I felt … well the opposite. I began itching to start my own business and end this self-inflicted daily torture.
I felt there was a glaring gap in the online advertising space that I could exploit. This gap was the inability of small businesses to get found online due to poor click through rates of their ads. As such, I began doodling a web application that would provide users with deals from small businesses (don’t laugh, this was a world pre-Groupon). The big difference was that my service would display ads about the deals, instead of displaying the deals themselves (don’t ask why, it seemed made sense to me at that point).
Anyways I was super excited about this idea since the sky seemed to be the limit from a revenue projection standpoint; so I dived into it with full gusto. A lot of money, sweat and time later, this business didn’t go anywhere. The closest I came to any revenues was on the fantastically formatted excel revenue model I’d built using my investment banking training.
Theoretically this seemed like such a great business, I was almost sure I’d IPO in a few years and bring the economy out of the funk (a la Google circa 2004 for those of us who remember). I was doing this during the 2008 recession fyi. Funny thing is, the Groupon guys have actually executed on this vision, and might pull this off for real. I learnt the most important lesson for an entrepreneur with this failure, that ideas aren’t worth the paper napkins they’re written on without execution to back them up.
After almost giving up on it, I decided to give it one more shot. As part of this effort, I started doing research on some open source software that I wanted to use. As I dived deeper and deeper into this research, I realized that there lacked a good place where I could find comparisons between all the different applications I was researching. There wasn’t one source for finding side by side, apples to apples comparisons from a users point of view. The information was scattered across hundreds of different sites in varying formats. My solution: a one stop shop for comparisons where users would be able to make informed decisions pretty quickly, by reading meaningful content created by a network of intelligent individuals. Thats when I decided to pivot (a few sectors over), from a site for deals to a site for duels, aka Mokabla.
This is where the journey truly started
Below is a simple sketch that captured the initial idea and concept behind Mokabla. This became the basis of the site. I wanted the site to be clean, intuitive and communicate the difference between two items at a glance.
At first I thought I could build the application on my own and started researching tools I could build it in. After copious amounts of research on the best CMS/Web development framework for a project such as mine, I finally settled on using Ruby on Rails. Turned out I didn’t want to spend time learning it, so I started looking for a partner to build it with. This was a pretty lengthy and frustrating process. Anyways, after finalizing the team I started to create mock-ups for the entire site, which I designed in Mockingbird. Here are a couple of screenshots below.
When I originally started building Mokabla, I thought I’d launch the functional prototype first and worry about making the UI/UX better later on. I thought I’d be able to design a good enough UI/UX on my own. But my DIY UI approach led to a design which sucked more than a Dyson. I always wanted to launch a product that rocked users from the outset (sorry lean startup school!), so the bush league UI we had definitely didn’t cut it for me. Even though the prototype was completed and ready to launch last month (Jan, ’11), I wanted to wait until the site was re-designed.
I spent the next couple of months re-designing the site with the help of our stellar designer. Here’s a how our landing page looked prior to and after the makeover.
As you can see the difference was night and day, Marky Mark and Mark Wahlberg. Anyways thats Mokabla’s story in a nutshell.
And today, February 24th, Mokabla beta is finally live!
This is obviously just the summary of our story. For more details on everything I’ve mentioned above you’ll have to read How to launch a startup. It’s an unfiltered behind the scenes look at my everyday struggles to bring Mokabla to life.