‘It’s okay to fail’ is a tenet that is popular in concept but in practice attitudes still shy away from embracing the acceptance that; in the startup world failure is more common than success and you should be open to talking about it. I feel it’s not embraced as much as it should be here in the Netherlands, but it’s okay to fall on your ass and fail with your startup. The learning you take from the death of your startup can lead into a better-informed follow-up project with more of a potential for success.
My 3rd startup Favour.it just came to an end after just less than a year. We fully embraced ‘fail quickly and learn from it’. Having spent about a month talking about the our journey to this point and the issues that we faced, we all agreed to move on to other projects. We felt enriched by the experience and confident to take our talents into other fields. I wanted to share some of the learnings we took from our time at favour.it:
Learn who you are getting into bed with:
Know your team. You are building a new business with people you might have never worked with before, so you really need to create a working relationship to learn about each other. You will be spending a large chunk of your time with these people so finding a good balance is essential. Doing small prototyping with the new team will help to gauge strengths and weakness and teach you what work on.
Sit down, have a beer and get to know the people that will you will create your new business with. In my opinion a small but focused team will share and contrast qualities to help you deal with problems, ideas and people in a more thoughtful way. Startups tend to have an abundance of strong willed, purpose filled individuals who can be stubborn. This is a positive not a negative and you only need to find the commonalities of characters and recognise the areas where you might differ in direction.
Make the right conclusions
Validating your ideas through user feedback is an important function of a new startup. Quantitative and qualitative feedbacks are good methodologies at many points through the startup journey but make sure you come to the right conclusions and not what you would like the answer to be. This can happen by asking people who are not connected to your startup and can give you unbiased thoughts on the gathered information. This will help you set your direction well in the early days and not having to waste time months down the line reassessing data.
Find the right investors
Dependant on whether you are are revenue positive (we were not) and need investment to investigate the problem you are aiming to solve, find investors that will trust your experience and intuition. This is so important. Having investor’s on-board that support your decisions creates a backbone for your startup so you can build/design/test with a sense of confidence. When we decided to finish our startup our investors were confident that we were always working in the business and their best interest with every decision we made. They can be a resource and support network that will be invaluable.
The minute you want to form the beginnings of your working relationship create a simple contract so you are all clear on what happens if various circumstances arise. Deal with equity immediately and make sure you budget for future employees and investment rounds. I personally am a big fan of a cliff built into the contracts but that’s not always everyone’s opinion.
Blog and socialize
Before favour.it I didn’t blog much and it tended to revolve around design, if it did happen at all. Regular blogging on your own platform and other sites is a great way to reach out to people with your advice and thoughts. You can never really appreciate the extent to which articles can be shared and appreciated. If you look at the Bufferapp team they went to 100,000 customers using guest posting so it does work. The power of tweeting can be powerful in connecting with people you have never met in person but also for people that share similar interests and goals. Business is built around networks so talking and building conversations is so important in creating a profile for you and for your startup. Your profile is representative of your startup. So be diligent and careful what you portray and how you talk to people.
Going to meetups and conferences will give you the opportunity to keep in tune with trends and expose you to new ideas and individuals who could reshape how you think about aspects of your startup. Nearly every time we each went to a conference we came back with new ideas and thoughts about how we approach our community. Luckily we balanced these conversations so we didn’t just have a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to new ideas.
Creating goals and time-lines for you and the investors will help you set a trajectory for the business. Set out weekly user growth, revenues and a development plan on deployment releases. These are more guidelines to create a roadmap for your success or in our case failure but they will really push you towards being able to track your progress during the lifetime of the startup. The investors will also be able to understand your journey and you wont be dropping a bombshell on them 10 months into the project with ‘sorry guys we are out’. Everyone’s expectations will be kept inline with the startup team.
This for me this was a revelation. The development side and especially server technologies were always black hole areas for me. I just trusted our CTO would look after what we needed to get done. The benefit of hindsight has lead me to the conclusion that if the whole team was involved in the development side a greater understanding of the technological leaps we were asking for would have been realized. Problems could have been shared and arguments would have been avoided. I involved myself in every other part of the company except the development and I regret not tackling this.
I write this so any other startups can take note and maybe not make the mistakes that we made and hopefully their pathways to success will be easier with the collective learning’s that have been made with the failure of our business.