On Startups And Failures

What My Failing Startups Taught Me

Sep 23, 2015 · 8 min read
npr.org

I got fired during the bubble burst in 2009 and since then I have been freelancing as a designer on short and long term contracts. During these years I started and shut down a few businesses, made lots of mistakes and many good choices too.

This is what I learned from these failing ideas, projects and startups that I was a part of from a business perspective:

1- You will only succeed in what you love doing.
Said by every living person on earth and i’m saying it again, It is what it is, “Do what you love.” You will never excel in something other than what you love, period. Ever wondered why people get bored of their jobs? The answer is because they don’t like what they are doing. As simple as it sounds, loving what you do is crucial in your career path, especially if after 10–15 years of work you figure out that you do not enjoy what you do! This will be a huge issue and will precipitate what most of us call a “middle age crisis”, a.k.a. “not knowing what to do”, a.k.a. “ start from scratch again.” Save yourself time and look for something you genuinely like, something not just because it pays well but both, you like to do and pays well. The most efficient way to do it is by thinking of what you enjoy doing in your free time, as this is has to be your getaway job and you should be having a lot of fun doing it.

2- Be meaningful
Nike’s CEO Mark Parker said, “The world doesn’t need anymore mediocre product”. True. Think of anything, anything at all… now google it… you’ll probably find it. Bringing something new to the world is a difficult and complex process and doesn’t happen overnight, well, perhaps long one but if you really are up to starting a project please think of something original and new first, do not copy what is already there, something that has the potential to solve a substantial issue or could put an end to one of the world’s biggest struggles.

spacex©

Elon Musk did something insanely expensive, fired a $30M missile, 3 times, into the space unsure if it will be back with a 50% chance at best, but if it did the payoff is grandeur and it will change the way humanity looks at space and he eventually made it on the 4th launch trial. That’s meaningful. Think of inventing a vaccine end some disease or illness. That’s meaningful.

There is abundance of mediocre ideas and products filling the world so make sure yours isn’t one.

3- Mutate
This is probably one of the few things that actually kept me going thus far. Soon after launching Fewstuff, with only $ 2K worth of sales, I realized how demanding eCommerce is. I had to do almost everything at Fewstuff: product buying, photography, packaging, social media, delivery and keeping one corner of my place as a warehouse. But before I started debating in my head whether I should do something else, I had to convince my self first that Fewstuff is not going to work or is likely to take at least a year to pick up, that was basically telling myself “All the money, time and hard work I have put in Fewstuff will go out of the window.” I immediately moved on to Plan B and Outly was born. A week after bouncing ideas Outly was in development.

There were two scenarios here: 1- Stick to Fewstuff and keep doing what I’m doing until magic happens, I get properly funded and happy days thereafter. 2- Close the business, start something else, keep my emotions aside and win. Mutants have some sort of super power, they get to a point and say: If I don’t stand again I’ll definitely loose but if I did then I might stand a chance. In a nutshell, you just need to be agile and dynamic against the odds, flexible, adaptable, a “Mutant”, you simply become unbreakable. Companies that they couldn’t adapt quick enough and introducing new ideas become extinct; they just stood stale and then died/dying, i.e. Nokia, Kodak, BlackBerry.

Be flexible and a quick doer.

4- It’s not about you
One of the greatest challenges in writing a screenplay is character assignment which is setting each character’s personality and their role in the play. It is considered as the hardest part of the process both by newbies and veteran writers. Why? Because all the characters take on the personality of the writer, they are all the author’s reflection and end up similar to each other and In order to set them apart, the writer needs to work so hard on each character separately making sure each has a distinctive role and image.

Same thing goes for your business and product. When you start developing an idea you will see it from your own perspective, not from others’. It will look like something you like, the center of the universe, but will anyone else do too?

4 months after I launched Outly, I was looking at its UI, the colors I used and it got me thinking… if someone wanted to party, will black be the color that attracts them to the party? Probably not.

Parties are all about lights and fun. The decision practically took itself, something needed to be changed. Outly the App needed to be more vibrant and cheerful. It was black just because black is one of my favorite colors.

Your product is not about you, it’s for your audience so always ask for their opinion and change, do not cling to what you want. Take negative criticism in and turn it into a positive outcome. You are not the end user, however, you still need to Eat Your Own Dog Food.

Remember, it is not just about you!

5- ENFJ
It took me a while to figure this out. ENFJ stands for Extraverted iNtuitive Feeling Judging (extraverted feeling with introverted intuition). It’s a personality type also known as The Giver and I happen to be one. A key characteristic of this personality type is that they find planning more enjoyable than achievements. The endless possibilities for the future excite them, but the present leaves them bored and restless. I admit, this is a typical Me. Hard as it may be, I’m working on fixing it and I think I’m changing. So double check about this too, a bored Giver is no achiever!

6- Domain name won’t make you a successful business
Face and Book, two words that have nothing to do with each other but when Mark Zuckerberg put them together they turned into the corner stone of the internet.

You might think that you have a nice one word dot com domain name, a 4 letters or less or even shorter is enough to make product but without interesting content your domain is worth nothing, content is king.

Instagram was first called ‘Burbn’, IBM is an acronym for International Business Machine, and if you remember Pets.com and the great dot com collapse. There are a million things that need to fall into place before your business bootstrap and one of them could be the name of your product.

7- Go Software not Hardware
Coming up with an idea and building a software or an application is hard and creating Outly was no different. It took lots of work, long hours of validation, coding, designing, testing and long yard planning.

Starting a hardware business is 100 times harder. You have to deal with enormous a never-ending list of things, physical stuff, materials, prototypes, engineering, not to mention worrying about demos, sales, warehousing, logistics, import taxes, marketing, and so on. It’s exhausting…

In 1997 and after Steve Jobs’ company, NeXT, was bought out by Apple and decided on his come back, Apple was extremely struggling to conquer the market again after Microsoft released Windows 95 and dominate 95% of the market share, and also after a series of bad decisions made by CEO Gil Amelio. Steve has to look at the warehouse of Apple to see that there is a $160M worth of Apple II, Apple LLe and Apple III computer laying around which they couldn’t sell in which eventually they had to dispose in the junk yard.

This is how much hardware business is costly and HARD.

Software business is the business of electrons; when things go bad, just switch off your computer. Problem almost solved.

8- Sans Filet
Long time ago I watched a documentary about people who got into accidents and managed to survive. In one of the episodes there was a guy who got stuck under a massive brick wall with no one to help. Yet he lifted that heavy wall up and survived. Fear causes the human brain to release large amounts of adrenaline which alerts the body organs and signals them to react as one. In one epic effort you spend all your energy to save the body, basically human instinct takes over.

Sans Filet is French for “without safety net”. Putting yourself in direct danger (not physical) makes you use all available options, it makes your reconsider things you overlooked, it makes you try new routes you were hesitant to use previously, or even invent new ones. Going Sans Filet does not mean jeopardizing your life; it’s about taking the initiative, worrying less about negative outcomes. As long as you plan it right and take the right precautions, all it needs is one big coordinated push, giving it your all, some human instinct. Vinod Khosla said, “ Failure does not matter. Success matters.”

You should go Sans Filet sometime, at least once.

9- Process Not Goal
You might have the most interesting job in the world but you will occasionally get bored; it’s the nature of routine and repetition. It’s human nature to get bored. Now imagine yourself doing something you don’t like or working for a lost cause. How will that make you feel?

You must always focus on the process not the goal, because without process you can’t get to your goal. Example: if you want to loose weight, act now, run every day for 6 month and you’ll reach your goal. It’s as simple as that.

James Clear in his book Mastering Creativity says that in order to succeed in what you are doing you must get used to boredom. One way or another you are going to get bored at some point. That will draw you back, you will loose interest; boredom is part of the chain and you can’t skip it.

You must fall in love with boredom.

10- Success is Tough
Being successful on any level is a tough job. Becoming the next Steve Jobs or any of those bright names might not happen overnight, or might not happen ever. You have probably succeeded in getting a college degree, finding a decent job that pays decent money, a fast car, living in a nice apartment in a nice area, and even scoring a hottie girlfriend. Fine, that’s all good! Being successful like Steve Jobs though is a whole different ballgame because it takes a different set of skills and intelligence to make it happen.

bizepic.com

You need to be prepared for failure and coming back, working smarter and you need to work hard constantly. Be cautious, be intuitive, bear in mind that you don’t have all the time in the world.

Thanks for reading.

p.s: Outly’s facelift is in progress

Update: Outly has been updated. Have a look here www.outly.net

Fahad Shehadat

Written by

Fahad is a Dubai based Creative Director & Design Entrepreneur. He is Vegan and in an ongoing fight against mediocrity and irrelevancy. www.shehadat.com

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