Lessons from why my startup failed: Know your mind.

I ceased work on ServiceChat – the startup that I have been working on for six months. It might not seem that long to you, but to me it is a very long time of illusions and self discovery.

My learning from why ServiceChat didn’t go where I had ambitions for it to go will continue to emerge over time, but one thing that pops straight out is that I didn’t know my own my mind. Let me explain?

Too many sources of information

We are in an age of startup frenzy. All the cool kids are in startups and it is an exciting time that is all the more exaggerated by the media feeding on the spectacular valuations and fortunes. Politicians rest the recovery from recession on startups and entrepreneurs, kids are encouraged to code from a young age and be the next Zuckerberg and dreamy eyed youth are cluing on to the fact that the barriers to realise their ambitions are lower than at any other time in the history of business – well at least for tech startups anyway.

There is such a rich ecosystem for startups – blogs, books, incubators , accelerators, coaches, advisers, mentors and so much more – maybe too rich. The reality is that almost everyone in this ecosystem is a startup themselves. They are selling something – their idea, their learning and some times their services. So you are their customer – of sorts – and their messages can be interpreted to make you think their way is better or your goals are the wrong ones. With so many opinions competing for your attention, it is easy to get distracted.

I got sucked in. I bought and read the books,  I read the blogs and heard expert after expert tell you how to do it – or how not to do it. Everyone means well – absolutely – and there is a wealth of anecdotal sense in what they say. But in a blog or a book, you read what was written whereas the learning you might need is in what was unwritten. In any case, as much as you recognise the symptoms they talk about, they are not talking about your particular condition in its entirety. I still needed to know my own mind.

But there is no recipe for growing a successful startup. There are general ingredients – test your idea, continuously validate and others. The exciting bit is that you get to decide what you are cooking and what the recipe should be.

Fail on your own terms

My trouble was I was seeking my mind in the words of others. That took a huge amount of focus away from what I was supposed to be doing – finding customers and trying to find market/product fit. It was also emotionally wrecking, constantly second guessing myself when yet another blog implied to do the opposite of that the previous book advocated. Was I following the *exact* process or was I doing what the book said? Occasionally my rational mind would chime in and say:

‘Screw them, they don’t have to find next month’s rent, you do – you have to do what you have to do to build this thing!’.

But I would mute it. Failure is hard to accept. But it can be easier to deal with if you understand why you failed and you learn from it. Failing on your own terms is perhaps the best you can have. In my case, one of the reasons I failed was not knowing my own mind.

My Learning

I’m not blaming anyone or anything – I don’t believe in blame.

I do believe in behaviors being more or less effective towards a goal. My learning here is that focusing on a process or a body of other people’s experiences to build my own startup was not an effective way for me to achieve my goal of a successful and viable startup business. The next time – and there will be a next time – I won’t do the same thing.

I will have my plan and I’ll be comfortable with my plan. I’ll formulate it from my own experiences and instincts. I may run it past advisers or check for obviously stupid aspects of it with books or blogs or other sources of information.  I may otherwise revise it but ultimately I will do it because it makes sense in my mind.

I encourage you to completely disregard this post. It was my learning and my experience and it absolutely may not apply to you. Know your mind.


Featured Image By: McKay SavageCC BY 2.0

July 23: A Change to Regular Programming

By: Jason RogersCC BY 2.0

When I set out to build my startup in January, we moved to Spain to immerse in the culture, learn the language and extend my startup runway by 4 month. I knew I would have to revisit how I would fund our continued stay in Spain and how I might continue to explore my startup. Quite fortuitously, one of my close consulting partners offered me a coaching engagement in my old haunt – Galway.

So here I am, in Galway Ireland , doing something I am very comfortable doing (and arguably pretty good at it too). I shall be here for 5 weeks working with people who are very good at what they do and trying to help them harness that goodness and focus it on greatness.

Here is my check in:

  • Sad that I’m not in Spain. I’m in Galway, on my own, far from my loves.
  • Glad that I will focus on startup tasks as my night job – once the initial chaos of training and fatigue wear out.
  • Sad that there do not appear to be any Spanish language meetups over the summer in Galway.
  • Glad that I have 50mb/sec internet in my accommodation.
  • Glad that I reached out to a few people about reviewing my blog post on Customer Service and Social Media – why it sucks. Thank you @joneversett and @joshkehn for taking the time to read the early draft and offer such rich and considered feedback which helped me improve the post.
  • I’m grateful for the abundance of learning all around and the capacity to learn from it.

I’m in.

Improve On…

  • Writing this blog in a timely fashion

Today

  • Write the next customer service related post
  • Buffer up some of of my twumps and Bizbuzz tweets /li>

The Trello board

<unchanged>

 

Everything becomes clearer in time. Though you might not live long enough to see it. Seek clarity now.

July 12: Traction not tractors

By: D. MillerCC BY 2.0

Traction is vital, getting early customers to commit to using what I’m offering is very important.  Both are vital and important for my finances and startup growth, sure – but mostly for my sanity.

I’m a maker and an artist.  I make the art that is in my head.  Many of the things I make are because I had a problem and I expressed a way to solve them.  When I bring them to the market (as ineptly as I do) and expect some meaningful response, I am investing emotional energy into that. I care that I get a response – much more than the nature of that response.  I can handle praise and rejection but much less so, apathy.

So my new strategy of trying to be found by prospective customers is off to a slow start, but a start nonetheless.  Here is my check in:

  • Mad that I am really struggling to keep my schedule on track, my options for being flexible are limited when I start late and end later.  If I start on time (9.30) , I am actually far more flexible to do other stuff (like going to the beach!) because I would have made some progress.
  • Glad that I can changed most things to get back to routine – this is a really valuable thing about working for myself.
  • Glad I had another idea and my technique for welcoming them and giving them a slot to explore them is successful at keeping me focused on finishing
  • I’m grateful for having different onion skins to other people and having mine not constrain me from being myself.

I’m in (onion skins and all).

Improve On…

Being a better marketeer – better meaning braver, more authentic, more dedicated, better organised. Avoid the schmoltz.

Being a better researcher –  everything – my potential customers, competitors , collaborators.

 

Today

The trello board says it all.  basically as much of the stuff I have on there as possible. Mostly blogs.  But absolutely must…

Write ServiceChat blog post on ‘I am the greatest customer service expert in the world’.

Do some promotion work on Twumps and ServiceChat and get at least 20 unique visitors to each today.

 

The Trello board…

My_ONE_Place___Trello

 

Ask yourself if you are doing everything* you can to be successful

* – whilst remaining congruent with your values, fair to those you love and kind to yourself

July 8 – Working hard, differently

By: Jeremiah “GrayBeard” RichardsCC BY 2.0

 

 

My last post was about 2 weeks ago and you might have wondered where I disappeared to. Well, I’ll tell you.

I was feeling very disheartened about the lack of traction with ServiceChat. So I took some time away from ServiceChat – maintaining focus when you are down is hard, but it is precisely when you need it the most.  This time was to try and get some perspective.

This time off  was mostly spent building this and exploring alliances with leading customer service evangelists like Ian Golding and Flavio Martins (both of whom are graciously offered to write about bizbuzz and ServiceChat).

So here is my check in:

  • Glad I took some time out to think about whether ServiceChat is still what I should be doing. Right now, it is.
  • Glad I built Twumps as outlet for my disheartenment, it was fun and completely different.
  • Glad that I am discovering passionate people in the customer services/experience space.
  • Glad that my spanish one-to-one conversations are getting better and I am also being useful to my partner in his journey to learn english.
  • Glad an option to replenish my funding is getting stronger by the day.
  • Mad I have such a reaction to insect bites that has laid me low for today.
  • I’m grateful for the universe that conspires to help me be successful.

I’m  in.

Improve On…

Keeping carbs out of my diet – especially the ones covered in sugar.

Today

Write this blog.

Start an insights blog post

Do some duolingo -I’m getting pretty consistent with this.

 

The Trello board…(more or less unchanged)

My_ONE_Place___Trello

 

Giving up is the last thing you want to do.

June 20 – Mikey’s back!

By: Elliott BrownCC BY 2.0

The last 13 days

Q: Does a daily blog have to be done every day?
A: Not when it’s @mhsutton’s blog – obviously.

So much has happened in the last 13 days, I don’t really know where to start. I’ve been away because I’ve been a little discouraged with the progress of ServiceChat (no, I haven’t been in rehab – just nose down trying to move it forward!) – So I took a break from writing and the routine, to focus 100% of my time on completing my customer discovery experiments. It was an ineffective move, what may have been more useful might have been to talk to my @saintsal sooner and continue with my routine but with differently prioritised work.  Most things suffered in this hiatus – I ended up being able to do less pushups for example!

So here is my check in:

  • Glad that I spoke with @saintsal – who very kindly listened to my challenges and offered his honest appraisal based on what I communicated. Sal was gracious but honest – I have been coding an awful lot with real focus on business building and validation. I knew this, but it was hard to accept from myself.
  • Glad that my funding strategy is sorted. I’m taking a consulting gig in August that will help me fund the next 7 months from 6 weeks work. Ha, the joys of living a lean life.
  • Sad that whilst I’m doing the language study, the practical experience is not really happening. I feel less capable of speaking Spanish now than I did in January!
  • Glad that my intercambio is starting on Monday – an hour talking in Spanish, hopefully twice a week.
  • Sad to hear of the sudden death of James Gandolfini – who played Tony Soprano on the Sopranos. That show was a large part of my rehabilitation during my divorce.
  • Sad/mad that my collaboration with FounderSync fizzled out after one blog, it was actually none existent. A thoroughly poor set up. Chalk it up to experience, I guess.
  • Glad I got to talk with @scottcrowther about ServiceChat and he was lovely and kind enough to share more than 20 ideas for improvement and growth with me (including moving back to the midlands!)
  • Glad I feel more engaged and more present.
  • I’m grateful for saints who pop up with truth and grace.

I’m good and getting better. The future is less dark and almost entirely my own making. I’m  in.

Improve On…

Blogging consistently – this and other non-coding things are the highest priority items I have to do now. I basically need to drum up interest in what ServiceChat does. BizBuzz was part of that effort and now that I have gifted it to the public to search , I would like to see more interest in how businesses engage their customers on Twitter.

Today

Start my ‘insights’ series on the ServiceChat blog – where I share what the data from bizbuzz is telling me (and has told me).  The first is a summary description of the types of support behaviours I have observed and I’ll try and evangelise with best groups for the topic on LinkedIn.
Reach out to Huffington post and explore how to become a huffblogger.
Reach out to my top 5 ideal customers and get a dialogue going about using ServiceChat
Blog, blog, blog.

 

The Trello board…

Screenshot_20_06_2013_14_22

 

Seek beyond what you know. It is dangerous. Most things worth anything are.

May 30 – It’s Been Emotional

By: DeeAshleyCC BY 2.0

Yesterday

Watching the data stream in and seeing the emotions and needs that generated it has itself been really emotional.

Screenshot_30_05_2013_11_02

On one hand, frustration that so many people who use certain businesses are dissatisfied and go unheard.  On the other, I am also glad that they choose to express that need (albeit with some angry words).
I’m fully into the acquire customer funnel, a conversation with my adviser on Tuesday emboldened my strategy and helped to renew my energies.

My check-in:

  • Glad I had a great conversation with Paul, my adviser, on my strategy for researching and acquiring customers.  He checked out bizbuzz and was impressed with the concept (there may be a potential pivot there).
  • Sad the almost all my contacts are techies – I need to get more professional diversity into my network.
  • Mad at so much today : youth unemployment, apathetic businesses that squander the promise of social media, stupid politicians. I have to blog something or else I might scream and drink wine…hang on!
  • Glad that I am really into my customer acquisition funnel with good data that will inform my approach and pitching.
  • I’m grateful for data. There is so much of it, most of it noisy, but with the right intentions and nurture, beauty can be coaxed. (WTF! – I’m waxing lyrical about data – someone smack me with a wet fish)
  • I’m grateful that NVC has enabled me to see deeper into this data and react differently with it. More empathically for all concerned.

I’m  empirically in.

Improve On…

Keep to the schedule.

Make a little time for my distractions.

Self restraint. Less long hours into the early hours

 

Today

My funnel includes talking to my potential customers’ customers.  Those who expressed a need (albeit it through angry words and criticism). I want to discover what they feel might have made a difference.  Did they have the conversation they deserved?  What could have happened differently for them? So, today those conversations continue.

Also I have 20 businesses on my list to find warm introductions to.  Great data to use in LinkedIn. I found five that I am already connected to and I will be sending intro requests to them.

 

The Trello board… 

Screenshot_30_05_2013_11_41

May 28 – Data is Fascinating

By: Dan BrickleyCC BY 2.0

Yesterday

I think I’m back in my stride!

Having got bizbuzz online, the data is flowing straight out of Twitter, of businesses that have the problem ServiceChat is designed to solve.  I’m getting the metrics to use in the conversation with these prospective customers.
It is providing amazing clarity and insight into the problems and I have learnt so much about the a worrying approach to corporate use of Twitter and in my opinion it is all wrong!!!  Businesses like Morrisons, Waitrose etc in the UK are missing huge opportunities in this space. Many use auto-responders (and I bet they sit in their boardrooms patting themselves on the backs for having a coherent social media strategy – please!!)

Wake up and smell the coffee, social media is not like anything you had before, trying to corral it into your traditional channels is going to cost you big time. Why are CIOs and CMOs not all over this?

Anyway – rant over…here is my check in (it is all glad!!)

  • Glad my data feed is online, 300+ prospects. Now, I’m the bottleneck.
  • Glad I decided against carpet-mailing my LinkedIn contacts , I now have targets and with a little effort I can narrow down the 20% who can get me to the decision makers in the businesses I want to speak to.
    Sometimes a hammer is not the only tool!
  • Glad the brainwave training stuff is working, I’m feeling less mentally fatigued, more alert and I think, quicker too.  I suspect fasting and exercise are also helping.
  • I’m grateful for Ruby on Rails.  I’ve been coding for nearly 20 years and it has never been easier to quickly make a beautiful  working version of something you imagined.  It is such a rich and giving ecosystem, that encourages me to give back to. So watch out for a Twitter reach gem, a beta marker gem.  They are all on my list.

I’m  in.

Improve On…

Keep to the schedule.

Increase automated code coverage on stuff that started as a hack.

Today

Screenshot_28_05_2013_13_15

 

My data reveals that, as of right now, there are 418 prospects from 766 unhappy customers, my strategy is to focus on the customers with most number of unhappy customers.

Today the major push is to have a conversation with a good cross-section of them, by the end of the week I want to have spoken/chatted with at least 20% of the customers of each of the top 5 target business in my data set.

 

The Trello board… is unchanged!

 

Be yourself, everyone else is busy. 

May 27 – A Squeak of a Week

By: Neil McIntoshCC BY 2.0

Yesterday Last Week!

It’s Monday, of a brand new week – that is as it always is.  However last week was notable for a few reasons:

  • I didn’t write my blog – a serious breach of the commitment to my focus. It’s not that I was not focused, in fact I was too focused to write a post!
  • I automated by lead generation process (most of it anyway) into an internal app (BizBuzz)
    Screenshot_27_05_2013_10_49

  • Tron went awesome! Managing my twitter responders just got infinitely easier.  I believe there are 2 potential services here – let’s see…
    Screenshot_27_05_2013_10_50

Here is my check-in, summing up last week and my hope for this one…

  • Sad I didn’t check-in on this blog since May 21.
  • Glad I successfully automated my prospects/lead generation process – making it easier to find the customers with the problem ServiceChat is designed to solve.  
  • Glad I started experimenting with Binaural sounds to enhance focus and learning during my iterations. I think it is actually working!  They play under my music/language etc.
  • Glad that this is the week everything changes (again!)
  • Sad that there are not more sign ups on ServiceChat (a week on), even my early adopters have not started using it.  Disappointed, but not surprised – we operate on different schedules  and what is urgent for me is much less important to other businesses.  Patience and persistence required!
  • Delighted that there is no more tech for now.  It’s fun, interesting and engaging, but an illusion of progress. Progress is not more code, it is more learning (right now, from early users).
  • I’m grateful for the gift of knowing better ways of living and hopeful for the wisdom and patience to choose them 😉

I’m present and  in.

Improve On…

Making sure that I write this blog – whatever the minimum is and keep it consistent.

Making fewer commitments for things that I don’t feel 100% that I will even get to (e.g. writing a blog post about my TedTalk favorites.)

Taking the time I set aside for congruent learning e.g. watching Ted.

Today

The major activities today are to do the human bits of my lead generation process – talking to the identified prospects or trying to get access to the folk who can make decisions!

 

The Trello board…

Screenshot_27_05_2013_10_41

 

Seek risks safely.

 

May 10 – My Keel Is Evening Out

By: Magic Madzik

Yesterday

Really challenging day, huge range of emotions but perhaps necessary.  Mostly I am:

  • Glad my routine is settling down and more that I am really enjoying it.
  • Glad I got feedback from my friend and ServiceChat early adopter on my landing page. It was awesome feedback and the mods really enhanced it.
  • Sad that I had a deep disappointment with a relationship that I thought was stronger than it actually is.
  • Glad that I was like a ninja on some tech challenges I got stuck on. I gave the solutions time to find me

I’m grateful for the ability to be irreverent.

I’m very In.

 

Today

The main goal today is to get the chat working again since I broke something! The tests need to go green before I move on to the other big elephant in the room – my explainer video.

I also will put together a mind map of options for funding from October (or sooner!) that I can discuss with my advisers.

The Trello board…

Screenshot_10_05_2013_10_51-2

April 30 – Plan: Recovering

Screenshot_30_04_2013_10_33

Today

I’ve been ill over the last few days – hence no diary entries. You know the deal, kid picks some bug up from nursery and goes on a germ fuelled rampage, infecting the entire household. Felt totally rundown yesterday, sore throat, phlegmy chest. Attempted to do some work but gave up mid morning.

Today I feel better and rearing to go. Many ideas in the shower today around customer identification and approach, eager to try them out.

I have quite a lot to do today, so I need to be super focused and disciplined with my time. It’s music on, tweets off and head down.

See you on the other side.

Wish me luck!