Building a startup is like playing tennis - Emmanuel Lefort (Weavit)
In this interview, I asked Emmanuel Lefort, who has recently been the founder of PKM app Weavit, a few questions about the challenges and struggles of building a startup in a crowded place, what ultimately lead to the decision to shut down the PKM app he and his team were working on and start over building something new, what he would have made differently looking back at his previous company and the way he built it, how he observes the space of PKM and productivity software, and what he is going to build next.
I wrote about Weavit's app in Creativerly 152. Weavit was building an app with the goal in mind to help you build and create a digital brain of your thoughts and notes. It was only available on iOS, and it was designed to capture all your thoughts, tasks, inspiration, ideas, and general notes with ease, whenever something comes to your mind. On top of that, Weavit's app found and linked people, topics, and events to your thoughts and tasks.
In September 2022, Emmanuel Lefort decided to shutdown the app, and start building something new under the name Weavit. So, the company Weavit still exists, but he decided to shut down the PKM app.
If you want to find out why Emmanuel decided to leave the PKM app of Weavit behind and start a new chapter for Weavit as a company, dive into this interview and read on.
Thank you so much for your time, Emmanuel. Please give us a brief introduction about yourself.
Thanks for having me Philipp! I’m an engineer that has spent 15 years in the financial industry and decided in 2020 to move to digital and leave my comfort zone. I’m super enthusiastic about new technologies, ideas and problems to solve. I’m also very concerned about climate change and how we could collectively make an impact.
You recently built a PKM app which was called Weavit. How did you come up with the idea for it?
I have always been fascinated by how things connect together, ideas, people, readings… Like in the brain, it seems one idea can catch the next one endlessly. I wanted to reproduce this concept of “train of thought” in a note-taking App. A place where you could just throw an idea and it would automatically connect to other blocks of your digital brain.
What was the biggest challenge you faced while building the Weavit app?
One of the main challenges was to design a user interface that would give our users an experience similar to browsing their own minds. Capturing thoughts, and linking them to other thoughts, contacts, topics, places, and meetings without disrupting the flow was both a design and technical challenge.
In an email back in September 2022, you announced the end of Weavit's app. What ultimately lead to the decision to shut down the app?
The other challenge was to stand out from the crowd. When we started in September 2020, there were only a few players in the place - Roam, Bear, Obsidian.. - and they were pretty geeky. Mem.ai was still in alpha and under the radar. We wanted to address the business people with a simple and intuitive solution, but building a community is hard.
Looking back, is there anything you would have made differently while building a PKM app?
Definitely. I always make the joke that before starting Weavit I had thoroughly read and studied “The 18 mistakes that kill startups.” a famous blog piece from Y-Combinator's founder Paul Graham. Looking back, I did all of them :) Building a startup is like playing tennis: you might learn a few things by reading books or watching videos, but what you learn on the field is the real thing.
So if there was one thing I would have done differently is taking things slower: to recruit, build the product, understand users’ needs etc. I went too fast on all of these.
Weavit's PKM app was powered by AI, a topic that is becoming increasingly popular recently. What role does AI play in the field of productivity software and how can it be leveraged?
AI is becoming very good at detecting shapes, patterns and increasingly text yielding similar ideas topics etc. Weavit was leveraging this technology in two ways: first to automatically link any person, event, place or topic to the users’ contacts, calendar etc. and second to propose an enhanced search coupled with thoughts that are similar to existing ones.
We are only in the infancy of industry adoption of Natural Language Understanding. For example, it could be used in a much better way to understand people’s expertise or topics they are working on in a company.
What does your observation of the productivity and PKM space look like? Do you think it is oversaturated with apps or is there still room for innovation?
The universe is clearly very rich, with a lot of interesting products for various types of users. But in the end, the apps fall into two categories: the ones where the user has to build the links between thoughts, and the ones that try to auto-organise people’s thoughts. In the end, I have not seen a product where the UX is so perfect that I would want to dump all my thoughts there.
The real innovation will come from a combination of perfect UX with instantaneous access to the thought capture, in any form and any shape: spoken, written, shared, copy/pasted etc. and a powerful auto organisation of these thoughts so that they can be resurfaced contextually (for example when checking a contact card, a meeting or a document) and with a strong search engine that also captures the context of the thoughts.
In the email, you announced the end of Weavit's PKM app, you also mentioned you are already working on your next product. Can you already elaborate on that and share some information with us?
Sure - and it’s pretty exciting! While working on our second fundraise, I spent a lot of time using LinkedIn to find who could help me connect with key people and VC funds. The result was terrible: people do not know their contacts on LinkedIn, starting with me! We are building Weavit, which leverages the “who knows who” engine that we built for the PKM app to considerably enhance the way you can leverage your contact’s contacts. Learn more about it here.
What tools do you use on a daily basis to get work done, take notes, and manage your projects?
I use iOS Notes. I have thousands of notes there, it’s a total mess… Airtable is my best friend as a CRM and Project management tool, integrations and automation are impressive. Miro is where I dump my ideas and build complex flow charts. That’s it.
Do you follow any productivity techniques? If yes, which ones, if not, why?
Zero Inbox because it’s very easy. My main issue is that I have too many communication channels. If I had a tool that could regroup my emails, WhatsApp, LinkedIn etc. that would help me a lot!
What is your number one tip to be more productive?
It will sound obvious but just DO things. No procrastination. No triple thinking. Start small, but start. It will always be time later to improve, automate etc. Most people get discouraged because they plan too big things. A too complex website. A too complex CRM system. A too complex e-mail campaign. Start by one thing, get feedback, improve, repeat.
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