We shared earlier this week that, after careful consideration and weighing the various options, we have decided to shut down Terrapn.
We spent three years thinking about how to simplify the way people communicate about places that matter to them, so you’d think this transition would be a traumatic experience and that it would have been a difficult decision.
While the path has been difficult — especially accepting the realities of our growth numbers and the market that may either not exist at this time and place, or might be so tough to wrangle that the reward no longer warrants the risk — realizing it was time to shut down was one of the clearest decisions I’ve ever made. And my cofounder was on the same page with me.
There are a lot of reasons “why.” We weren’t growing quickly enough, our team was losing steam, and we were realizing the market was probably smaller than we anticipated. No single factor is to blame, as is often the case with startups, but the mixture created a scenario where it no longer made sense to continue.
Just as things were rapidly starting to vacillate internally, we started (finally!) getting commitments for our angel round. This should have been good news and should have given us the energy to pursue the rest of our round, but it only made us realize we were operating on life support. Money was the last thing that was going to “fix” anything. Nothing makes you face reality like the responsibility of making other people’s money turn into more money.
My cofounder and I are extremely lucky. We came to this realization before we took on the responsibility of investors, before we (slowly, if ever) grew to millions of users and customers, and before we hired a large team. We learned more than we could have ever hoped for. We also had immense epiphanies of our own, regarding our future career goals and our life priorities.
Personally, this process helped me develop as a leader more than any other career experience I’ve had, especially over the past year. Those lessons learned will stay with me forever and will help me be that much smarter in my next adventure. I’m realizing that building a new product, or creating anything at all, is akin to Tibetan sand mandala. It’s about embracing the inevitability of change and recognizing that the magic you experience comes from the process of creating something — not from the end result.
The beautiful thing about a sunk cost is there is zero point dwelling on what could have been done differently (though I’m sure I’ll never be able to truly keep that out of my head, completely). The important thing to remember is the time spent making and shipping Terrapn wasn’t a waste.
The absolute best thing about having swung for the fences, only to strike out, has been getting exposure to so many amazing people that I’d have otherwise never gotten to meet. I’ve met dozens of brilliant people, from all over the world, who have given me the opportunity to learn from them, speak with them, get to know them, and be their mentee. They became advisors, customers, friends, and cheerleaders. I’ve found that’s the most wonderful thing about the startup community (and the food and geo communities): so many smart people are so willing to help each other and root for each other and it’s something I didn’t see happening until I had to turn around to lean on them for support.
With that, I am happy to discuss what I learned over the past few years with anyone thinking about or working on cracking the vast areas of the local discovery space that remain untouched. There is immense opportunity and I’m excited to see what the future holds for this space.
As one of my advisors put it, “you picked a fucking hard space and you’re in good company [of founders who’ve tried to tackle local and didn’t succeed] and they’ve since gone on to do great things.”
“Great things” seems like a lofty goal and like a lot of work right now, as I’m still thinking through what’s next. I can only hope I learn as much in the subsequent things I do, as I did through this process, while avoiding the mistakes I now know to recognize.
I’m excited to see what the future holds. See you there.