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Part 2 of The Impossible Startup: Hypothesis
Our continued effort to build the startup that will change our relationship to knowledge
This is Part 2 of a multipost series. Please read Part 1 first
What is the Impossible Startup?
I want to bring you on a journey as I found my third company. It’s the most ambitious one yet. We are very much in the ideation stage, hence the title of this post. My goal for writing this post is twofold:
Show you how we got started and, maybe, inspire you to create your next startup
Get advice from those reading my posts
"If we take man as he really is, we make him worse, but if we overestimate him …. If we seem to be idealists and are overestimating, overrating man, and looking at him that high, here above, you know what happens? We promote him to what he really can be." - Viktor Frankl
TLDR: Our website is launched. Please signup cicero.ly
Attempt One: Let’s get rid of COVID-19 confusion
First, we tried to resolve the problem identified as “Sources (and conversations) are not accessible” in this whimsical chart that I shared in part one.
We believe that by collecting, summarizing, and categorizing the expert consensus on a topic we can help people get closer to the truth.
We started designing our MVP around Covid.Depending on your sources Covid is either the scariest thing ever or nothing to worry about.
We decide to create a Wikipedia-style page that summarizes all the research papers in plain English. The page updates itself as new information comes out. Instead of relying on biased sources, you can read summarized, categorized, and automatically updated works of scientists publishing on top journals. If desired, you could dig in and read the sources for more nuance. We thought this would be a great MVP to test our hypothesis.
My cofounder tried to use machine learning to summarize the articles we were getting from research journals. Sadly, this turned out to be much harder than expected. We realized:
We cannot get access to all research papers easily.
Some research papers were formatted in a way that made it difficult for the machine learning algorithm to work.
Some of the research papers are in another language.
It’s difficult to make easy-to-understand summaries from complex research papers.
Tackling the problem with this approach would take way more time than expected. Failing to validate our idea beforehand might result in wasted work.
This seemed like too technical of a problem to create a straightforward MVP with which to validate our idea.
Time to pivot: How about experts talk to the public directly?
If it’s too hard to summarize existing information, maybe we can get experts to share their consensus on a topic.
We believe that experts want to share their opinions on topics. They just lack the right incentives and an easy-to-use platform. More experts weighing in on a topic will allow us to get closer to the truth.
This time I did things differently by validating before doing any work. Ideally, you talk to friends, family, and coworkers. This is how you should always do things but we didn’t follow this step for the previous idea.
I interviewed some experts on Twitter and Reddit and got some interesting responses.
The consensus seemed to be two things:
“Why would we want another platform on top of the existing ones to publish stuff?”
“My field is too nuanced and I would be dumbing things down by sharing with the public”
“We already have too many platforms and we like Twitter, Medium, etc. If anything we want fewer platforms”
Experts already generate a ton of content on Podcasts, Twitter, Youtube, Substack, Medium, Linkedin, and other platforms. The real challenge seems to be getting that content in front of the right eyes.
Pivot again: Current version of Cicero
Hypothesis: We believe that by allowing people to discover and follow leading experts we can help people come closer to the truth. We do this by centralizing their work from many sources into one. Whether the existing source is a podcast or a newsletter, we will catalog it on Cicero.
This is a dream product for myself and my cofounders. I am so sick of Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and Linkedin. They all have algorithms and content that is not conducive to learning. Their goal is to keep your attention for as long as possible without any care for the quality and validity of their content.
I went to different online communities to do some interviews. I also talked to about 12 people. Mixed results again, but people were very curious.
Talked to lots more friends this time. Again, very interested but they couldn’t visualize it.
This is a promising idea. People see the problem, but it’s hard for them to visualize the solution we are proposing. We realized our niche market is people who already are following blogs, substacks, and podcasts of experts. But they feel like it’s hard to comb through everything or discover new voices and content.
Our Mission Statement
Important: Before you read our mission statement keep in mind that this is all aspirational. Cicero in its current form will not accomplish everything we lay out in our mission statement. But our mission is our beacon. It is the set of guiding principles that we hope to bring to the world.
Cicero's mission is to help you learn and see the world for what it is. It's the learning app for people who are sick of the toxicity of social media. In today’s digital world, it's too easy to become siloed and succumb to tribalism. Cicero is on a mission to change that.
We designed an app that focuses on scientific evidence, acknowledges cognitive biases, and celebrates intellectual diversity.
We want to make the world's greatest thinkers and researchers easy to access and help you recognize and avoid misinformation.
Here's how we're going to get there:
We only promote good faith voices. Thinkers who make earnest attempts at uncovering truth (instead of pushing an ideological agenda) get pushed to the front.
We make complex topics accessible. We'll summarize the most compelling arguments around a topic, boiling them down to the most salient points, for or against a particular point of view.
We cut out the sensationalism. Twisting the truth to get more exposure embodies everything we're against.
We help you identify bad-faith voices for what they are. We equip you with the context you need for identifying hypocrisy and inauthentic pandering.
We make it easier than ever for experts to share their ideas. With Cicero, researchers, scientists, and intellectuals can easily share their work beyond the expensive research journals and private academic communities they're traditionally confined to.