I Didn't Launch My Start Up - and That's OK.

Jul 15, 2019 business
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I deal with a lot of start-up founders. One thing that I’ve noticed from a lot of them is that they feel like no one understands the struggles they’re going through. A lot have talked about being lonely or trying to find people to count on. Because of this, I had an idea - I wanted to help them with an online tool. I came up with the idea for StartUp Tribe.

Here was the pitch:

Running a startup is hard: long days, late nights, and lots of ups and downs. Who can you share it with? How do you stay on task? With StartUp Tribe, you get accountability, encouragement and support from your tribe. Up to 10 tribe members will participate with strategy sessions, remind you to keep going, and give you positive vibes. In return, they stay connected to the inner details of your start up that they really care about.

When I talked to my friends, they all supported me. “That’s a great idea!” “This is gonna work!” But, after many years around start-ups, I’ve learned that friends are the worst market validation. They mean well, but you have to validate the market yourself.

I created a landing page at startuptribe.us. My goal was to gather enough feedback and email addresses to indicate a strong desire for this product. In the end, I only got 5 email addresses. I got a few messages from founders saying it sounds like a good idea, but they wouldn’t use it.

My market validation was successful - as in it validated that the idea didn’t have a market. Honestly I’m partially relieved. But, I can’t help being somewhat sad. I liked this idea. I thought it would be great. But, I don’t have time to push something up hill that the market doesn’t want or need. So, today, I throw in the towel and call it a day.

But, allow me to share a few things I learned along the way.

Market Validation is Necessary

As I alluded to above, my friends supported my idea. Well, they’re supposed to. I certainly have supported their silly addiction to kites, propped them up during bad relationships, and helped them un-fubar their computers. But, they weren’t the audience for this tool.

I really wanted to build this product out, because I really believed in it. But, when you have a product idea, you have to determine if you are building out something for pride, vanity, stubbornness, or if the market really will use it.

Ideas are easy, implementation is hard. That’s why you should share your ideas with your market ahead of time and see if there’s interest. Some people are afraid that they will have their idea stolen - but that’s not as big of a thing as you might think. Ask most founders - the hardest part of a project was building it, not thinking of it. So, save yourself some time and money, and validate your idea.

Marketing Tools and Fails

I learned to make an explainer video with VideoScribe which ended up being way more fun than I thought. There was a significant learning curve, though. It wasn’t hard, just time-sucking.

I created a single HTML-only landing page with Netlify and registered a quick domain. I didn’t provision any advanced hosting because this was just a single, static page. I focused on the explainer video for the landing page, then described the details below.

For the imagery, I went to UnSplash and then edited some of them.

One of the interesting questions I got, and by interesting I mean infuriating, was “how much does it cost?” I listed in the marketing material in a bold header that it was free. See?

Other feedback I got revolved around how vague my description of the features were. What were the actual tools and functionality I was going to provide? Looking back, I should have mocked some up and taken “screenshots” I suppose.

I think another failure was putting the mailing list sign up at the very bottom. I assumed people would be so interested that they’d scroll through the entire page. In reality, people don’t scroll (my analytics say so). Maybe with the sign up near the top, more would have signed up to be notified.

Finally, I did share the landing page with local entrepreneurs, Product Hunt, and many other link-sharing sites. I noticed that a lot of those sites actually waited at least a month to share my site (or you could pay a premium to get it listed the next day - what a cool business model). So, that could also affect some of my traction. Looking back, I’d like to have submitted to them before I built out my landing page fully, maybe.


Just a small note on tech. I got to experiment with some Mailchimp sign up functionality as well as use one of my favorite CSS frameworks Bulma. I tried using Tailwind and gave up after a while. I didn’t want to think about the design, I just wanted things pre-designed for me.

What’s Next?

What’s next is publishing this blog entry, letting the mailing list know what’s up, and closing down the landing page. But that’s not the end for me.

Ideas come all the time. It’s important not to let a failure-to-launch cause you to fail to come up with other new ideas. While I’m a bit let down about this particular project, I’m still trucking along on other ones (like The Dev Manager). Thanks for reading.

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