Recap of my experience building a startup

My startup in college failed, Here’s what I learned

Just because you don’t succeed, doesn't mean that it was not a valuable experience. This was the case for my college startup.

Jonathan Segal


College is a great place, you make new friends, try new things, and have no shortage of homework. During my freshman year at Iowa State, aside from doing normal college things, I spent my time learning as much as possible about how people have made technology solve problems for society and everything that goes into making these ideas a reality.


In the classroom, learning, especially for Computer Science, is usually seen as not being able to teach the skills needed to succeed in the field. This lack of real-world know-how is why many students work on side projects, contribute to open-source, or do coding challenges. I have always been fascinated with the idea of working on my own project and creating a company. When I was in middle school, I created a company that sold model Rockets. I had a website, business cards, even an online shopping portal; The only thing I was missing was the actual products, needless to say, endeavor never took off. I have been working on creating the next big company ever scene then, and with every failure, the next project gets better and more focused. College was the culmination of years of wanting to make a difference. I would make friends by asking the people sitting around me in my coding classes if they wanted to start a project with me, most did not, but the ones who did turned out to be great people.


Something I got involved with at college was hackathons. I attended many hackathons my first year, all around the Midwest, even get second place at one. Hackathons are great exercises in many skills that it takes to make the next big thing. Hackathons, in a nutshell, are a weekend-long event in which teams of around four students create a project usually within a theme to solve a problem that they have identified. Identifying an existing problem and creating an intuitive solution that meets the initial need and generates interest and connection is an incredibly valuable skill.

Company Start, Legal

During the second half of the year, after brainstorming so many ideas for hackathons and other projects, I came up with the idea that I thought could turn into something, the concept of hyper-localized social texting with an emphasis on privacy and in-person connection. I spent a lot of time researching what was needed to start a company and how to succeed. I wrote out the initial concept, drew up a logo, and got the code infrastructure started. The next step was to get my friends together and bring in help to get things going. I wanted to ensure that I was protected legally and that everyone on the project felt like they had the right amount of legal binding to the project and individual protection. I wrote an example agreement and then met with one of the on-campus layers at Iowa State to get some advice on the legal resources for this project. There are many stories out there about starting a company and people feeling like that it was unfair, and I did not want what that to happen.

Concept/ Business plan

The app’s concept was to messaging platform from scratch to combine a few ideas such as proximity and local context. There were multiple groups based on your distance from those you were communicating with and where you were.

After finalizing the idea, I then created a business plan with actions and rough timelines for the project’s stages. The plan outlined the process from creating a minimum viable product to an initial release. This plan also laid out ideas for monetization and growth of the platform.

Organizing a team

After coming up with the idea and outlining an initial business plan, I went around to my friends to see who would be interested in working on this project. Including me, I had nine people who were going to get started working on this project.

We had a few meetings initially to work through everyone’s understanding of the project and discuss the first steps in the process of development of the app.

This app was in active development for a few months, fizzled out, then after about a year after in, I officially ended the project. Here are some of my thoughts on what went well, what I learned, and what failed.


This project was enjoyable, and it was an excellent experience for me to just going through the steps of starting a company/project. The work that is involved in this process is much more than it seems. From creating a plan to organizing a team and creating a product, wearing many different hats is a must, and each different aspect has its own challenges and opportunities. Throughout this process, I build some great connections with those on the team. I also learned a lot about this process.


Looking back now, Whelo did not have an excellent chance to succeed from the start. Multiple mistakes are apparent to me now, looking back on the project. Here are some of the most obvious ones and what I learned from them.

First, there was no initial product. I had created everything but a working demo. Having something that works, even if it is only working at a basic level, provides direction and can be easily worked on without trying many different ideas and opinions together. The work that goes into a project like this initially is exceptionally critical. Without the proper amount of planning, it could be a setup for failure before it even gets going.

There were too many people when the company started. Before I even had a working demo, there were nine people involved in this project, as college students’ lives were busy and schedules were tight trying to keep nine people on the same page, and working together is much harder than it sounds. Starting small with just me to create a working demo and then as the app grows, bringing on others as is needed is a much more sustainable way to develop a product.

Another aspect that was missing that we didn’t encounter but would have is a lack of market research. After finalizing the idea, the team discussed how we wanted to build it. There was no work done to ask others if this was something that was wanted. Market/user research is critical for the direction of the product and forming how the growth and development are maintained.

There are more reasons why Whelo failed, but here are the main three reasons that I think are most obvious.

What I learned

Many things go into the creation of the next big thing. There has to be an idea, time, and energy spent on creating a product and then the product’s growth. Through this process, I have learned a tremendous amount about starting a project, recruiting a team, and working on its development. Hopefully, those involved learned as much as I did and are not discouraged from being a part of a startup. The world of tech is fast-paced and ever-changing, and trying to carve out your part of it can be incredibly challenging but also very fun and rewarding at the same time. Whelo will not be the last company I try to create!

Why am I writing this

I learned a lot through this process and wanted to share this information with the world. You mostly read about the startups that do very well, Snapchat, Vine, Instagram, but for every fresh startup that takes off, there are hundreds of projects that could have been something cool that never do. While it might be discouraging to fail, when you try something, you get better at it. Whelo was my first real experience with starting up a company project like this, and the information I learned will help me with any further endeavors that I do. Hopefully, you’ll get some use out of it too.

What to consider before startup

There are so many people in the tech world who wish they could start a company or make an innovative product, but don’t start due to fear of failing. Building something new is always a challenge and takes a lot of work, but if you are afraid of failure, you should start anyway. Even though Whelo “failed,” it was enjoyable, and I learned a lot, working towards a goal no matter how many times you fail is what defines success. Hopefully, by reading this article, you can see what I did wrong with Whelo and learn from my mistakes to start further along in the process than I did so you don’t make the same mistakes. If you have no interest in making a startup, this advice is also helpful for schoolwork or any work that is multifaceted and challenging.


This article was my thoughts about this process, what I learned, and what to consider before trying again. If you have any questions about Whelo or something I covered in this article, please tweet me @jonathannsegal. Also, check out the repository on GitHub:



Jonathan Segal

A college student 🎓 tech enthusiast 🤖 and in general someone with opinions that you might want to read about 📜