The Future of My First Startup: Quillo

In part 1 yesterday, I gave a spark notes summary of my last three years told through the lens of my first startup Quillo. Today I’m going to discuss it’s future.

Photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash

To cut to the point, Quillo is no longer my primary priority. After getting accepted into the worlds leading talent investor, Entrepreneur First in Singapore, I have decided to treat Quillo as more of a side project than my baby. The website is still running and helps 1000s of students buy and sell their university textbooks across South Africa. However, the vision of expanding the marketplace and democratising all educational resources has been put on hold while my focus is on other ventures.

You have no idea how hard it is to write and admit these words. Quillo has become intertwined with my identity; my friends would literally call me Mr Quillo. I rallied students, investors and partners behind this ambitious vision, and I feel like I have let them and myself down. However, I do have my reasons for doing so:

Partner, partner, partner

I went through 5 different partners during Quillo’s history. They all followed the same pattern. At the start of a new partnership, it’s always puppies and rainbows. I would romanticise a grand future, I would have a jolt of motivation and accountability, and I would feel like this individual will bring the magic sauce to catalyse growth.

However, after time I would realise that perhaps this person is not as committed to the project as I was, that the value they are bringing is not worth the equity stake they have received or that we simply do not work well together. When the partnership would inevitably end, it would be up to me again to keep moving the ball forward.

In case someone has not told you startups are hard, like really bloody hard. They become even more challenging if you are doing it alone. Starting a startup is often compared to falling off a cliff with aeroplane parts and needing to assemble the plane before hitting the ground. There is another fire to put out at every corner; you will hear no 1000 times and hear that your idea will never work 1000 times more before getting a single yes.

In a regular job knowing if you are doing a good job is relatively straightforward. You have a predefined task and direction, and you execute to the best of your ability on that task. However, as the founder of a startup, you determine what that task and direction are, and there never comes a day where you feel 100% confident that you have chosen the right strategy. There is an infinite number of ways to build the product, market it and raise funding. Navigating this complex web alone as a first-time founder caused me more stress and anxiety than I could manage.

Additionally, when inevitable burnout hit, there was no one I could turn to make sure the wheels were not going to fall off the bus while I took a break. When I needed the motivation to get up again after being knocked down, there was no one but myself to deliver that motivation. I realised I was the limiting factor in the success of Quillo, and it would only reach the heights I knew it could with the help of an equal partner I could depend on.

At the same time I had this realisation, I came across the Entrepreneur First program, and when I looked at their website, the first words that popped up were:

“The best place in the world to meet your co-founder and build a technology startup from scratch.”

The serendipity of seeing those words is still dumfounding. After getting accepted into the program, the promise of meeting an exceptional co-founder and expanding my horizons internationally to Singapore was an offer too tempting to say no to.

Freedom & Exploration

I remember watching the following video when I first started learning about startups. Paul Graham, the founder of YC (Most successful startup accelerator in history), gives the very blunt advice not to create a startup while you are young because it will consume your entire life.

Just watch the first 5 minutes from where the video starts to hear his words I refer to

To 21-year-old Tamir, this seemed ridiculous; there was a problem to solve and textbooks that needed to be sold. I could not idly sit by while I thought I was sitting on a pot of gold which could help millions of students. However, as time goes by, the novelty and excitement you feel towards things which were once your life and blood fade.

As I left University, the opportunity cost of continuing with Quillo became starkly apparent. I always dreamed of travelling the world, backpacking, doing crazy and adventurous things with the spare change in my pocket. I realised that this was a lifestyle I could afford to live in my early 20s. I would be fine if I needed to sleep on a bench or spend a month in a rundown hostel. This is a not reality I could afford to live in my 30s. I have decades (potentially centuries if Elon figures out how to upload our consciousness to the cloud) to dedicate my life to work and my career, but I will only have this time right now to live the nomadic life I’ve always dreamed of.

The Future

My passion for education has not wavered. The current project I am involved in tackles the root cause problems of ineffective math education globally by teaching math through code (A future article will be written on this).

Quillo is still helping 1000s of students, in the past week alone more than 10 000 students have used the platform to either buy or sell their textbooks and I am in talks with an existing company who could give Quillo the time and attention it needs.

Who knows it may become my major focus again in the future. But regardless of what happens, it will stay online and continue to serve its core purpose of making textbooks more affordable and accessible to South Africans.

EFSG8 | Founder at Strive Math | Founder at Quillo