I always dreamed of launching my own startup. I had an idea for a language-learning tool powered by artificial intelligence. But, like many aspiring entrepreneurs, I had doubts.
And my wife and I wanted to start a family.
I kept asking myself: Is this really the right time to gamble on an untested idea? I was the Head of Product Experience at Uber—a dream job for many. I'd been there six years. Life at a big company is steady and predictable. I was hyper-focused on my little piece of the much larger machine, and I got the stability of a biweekly paycheck in exchange.
Staying at Uber would have been a no-brainer. I went through all the typical reasons not to launch a startup: I didn’t have the time. And I didn’t have the resources to build the thing the way it should be without giving up a huge chunk of equity in a pre-seed round.
But I decided to make the leap. Actually, first I joined a startup incubator, then got cold feet and joined another big company, realized it was a mistake, and then made the leap. And I learned that all the reasons not to were based on two key misunderstandings.
Misunderstanding #1: Time is the enemy.
Time is a huge stressor for founders. It always seems to be slipping away. Every hour on your calendar is negotiable. That's a very jarring difference coming from the world of W-2s, where I was used to the comforting illusion of productivity that came with a jam-packed schedule. Now, nobody is telling me where to be. Which might have been liberating, except it can be scary to think about the opportunity cost of giving up your biweekly paychecks while you race towards an MVP.
This brings me to one of the levers I found while trying to get my startup off the ground: well-compensated, meaningful independent work.
There are lots of platforms out there, but I joined the A.Team network because of the exciting startups and missions, and because I knew I’d only be working with top tier builders. Freelancing unlocked something big. Now I have the ability to make my own schedule and shift my energy to where it’s most needed on any given day. I get both the financial cushion and increased flexibility.
It also freed me up to take a big chunk of time to support my wife and be with my son in that irreplaceable stretch right after he was born. Now I feel a bit like Mick Jagger must have felt when the Rolling Stones made their debut on the Ed Sullivan show: Time is on my side.
Misunderstanding #2: You have to build it all yourself.
Working as an independent product manager with A.Team gave me 20 hours a week to work on my startup, but I was paralyzed thinking about the size of the technical challenge in front of me. I knew there was no way I could scrape together the resources to build it all from scratch.
Turns out, you don’t need to build your entire product yourself. Oftentimes there are off-the-shelf tools and open source libraries that are super effective and affordable.
When my startup needed an admin panel to control user specific functionality, make direct edits in our database, and then visualize our data, I got very close to wasting a bunch of my tech team’s time trying to build our own tool completely from scratch.
There’s an instinct to want to build everything yourself. But then I remembered this great, off-the-shelf tool I had recently implemented while on an A.Team mission with a fintech startup. We used that instead and saved ourselves the hassle.
Along with the financial cushion and the flexible schedule, the A.Team experience provided something I wasn’t expecting: a crash course on what it takes to get a product from 0 to 1.
Leveraging A.Team to launch my own startup
This new mode of working allowed me to make incremental progress on everything: I paid the bills, spent time with my son, and still had time to build a product that would solve a real-world problem.
At any given moment, one in four people globally is studying a new language. For some, the journey to reaching fluency in a new language is done out of passion, but for most it's done out of economic necessity. Problem is, most of this group will quit before reaching fluency.
As all language learners know, you don’t reach fluency in a language without having real conversations in your target language. But where do serious language learners get access to these conversations?
For many, the only option is to spend a bunch of money on tutors and courses, or attend awkward language exchanges with strangers who also aren’t fluent in the language. That’s why we decided to build Lingostar.ai. Lingostar is an A.I.-powered conversation partner for language learners. It can have unscripted, back-and-forth conversations by text or speech about literally any topic you want in English, Spanish, or French. And it's free.
But unlike other apps, Lingostar doesn’t just use A.I.—it is A.I. You can fangirl about your favorite Beyonce songs or ask about reducing your carbon footprint. No more boring conversations asking where the library is—nobody is looking for the library!
I’ve always been passionate about language. Most recently, I’ve been studying French, so as to not be excluded in the conversation between my wife, who is Belgian, and our son. But even after I knew the basics, I struggled to reach conversational confidence. I, like many others around the world, reached the dreaded language learning plateau.
Now I’m getting closer to fluency. How? Well, it started with the spark of an idea, fueled by the flexibility provided by A.Team, and has culminated in the launch of a product I now speak to daily: Lingostar.ai.
That, and a little bundle of motivation.