Victus Spiritus


Failing faster, Life waits for no founder's triumph

29 Nov 2010

Alas poor Yorick!, I knew him Horatio
You put everything you have into building a prototype. You put everything you have into marketing that symbol. You put everything into finding kindred spirits who share your passion for building solutions. But your first product falls on deaf ears. All that enthusiasm hits a wall of apathy, and your team gets its first bitter taste of failure.

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath
borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is!

(who's Yorick?)
Fair thee well Intelligent Media Manager, you were a solution without a problem. From beginning to end this product took six months: two months of concept, two months to build out and modify, and a couple of months to finally let go.

It's not all melodrama and bad news. Subtle changes infiltrate their way into the space between assumptions and reality, indelibly changing would be entrepreneurs. You go over what went wrong with the team in the postmortem, dust yourself off, and spin up for your next go. Maybe a team member or two parts ways, seeking greener and more immediately profitable pastures. We all have to pay the bills. The startup death clock ceaselessly ticks on, and life waits for no founder's triumph.

Arise battered spirit, there's work to be done
Once again you and your team target a problem and dig in to build a better alternative, or the first answer to a pain point people are just realizing they have. But the solution proves too elusive this time, extending beyond your team's reach. The backend is complex but within the scope of the master web engineer. Yet the front end design is far beyond your expertise. You outsource a component, hoping to leverage the experience of a talented professional only to discover the real challenge in design isn't the implementation, but the seamless flow of information. Before being fully realized, the open social newsfeed reader was gone but not forgotten. In total this project cost two-three months before being tabled.

Contrary to common wisdom the startup's second failure is even more painful than the first, which has never fully healed. Like an old wound the failure erodes the very foundation of self belief, which serves as a shield against the stinging rain of reality. Another postmortem, followed by a slow rise and sanity check. Are you prepared to fail for the rest of your life? How long are your supportive loved ones prepared for you to fail? There are no guarantees except change in the cutthroat world of startups.

How fast can you get back up?
The next product concept strikes while out on a walk, surrounded by signs which call out to drivers of an impending garage sale. This time the implementation is hacked together in record time, the chief hacknical wizard has taken each failure as a lesson. It's better to rapidly prototype and test market interest before committing weeks or months of time to a design. A barely functional site proves the concept but is unable to stir the hearts of moving sale visitors or hosts. A thorough marketing search uncovers several competitors in the space (a good sign), but none of them show any signs of healthy traction (visits). The moving sale market isn't quite ready to embrace web and mobile solutions. Craigslist is about as far as folks will stray from local classifieds and cardboard signs. The solution here will have to mask itself in sheep's wool.

GarageDollar was the quickest creation and failure to date. This time the lack of traction wasn't as personally painful, although I can't speak for the heavy lifter who did the rapid development. The choice to abort felt more clinical based on top competitor traffic over several years.

Since then I've had some close calls at my part time job, which keeps me afloat but fails to capture my deepest interests. The layoffs are due to large scale market changes, and I'm first on the chopping block as a part timer. In early fall I began seeking positions within funded or profitable startups. I haven't given up on building a compelling product and company. But I have looked for more immediate income and paying hands on experience. Here's a link to my resume best viewed in a recent edition of chrome/chromium, firefox, and safari. I haven't tried it in IE9 beta yet, and will likely need to adjust some tags while html5 standards bake in.