Worried That You’re a Failed Entrepreneur? Read This First.
Have you ever been trolling around Facebook and seen someone whose profile suggested they had their life all together? They have well-behaved children, have adorable pets, have lots of friends and regularly go on exotic vacations. You might compare what’s happening in your day-to-day life to the things that they share on their Facebook profile and think that your life just doesn’t measure up.
It’s easy to forget that someone’s Facebook profile is a curated selection of the best aspects of their life. It’s their highlight reel, and it doesn’t reflect parts of their life that they aren’t proud of or aren’t happy about. They might be unsatisfied at work, have a trail of broken relationships and have an undisclosed medical issue that will never make it onto their Facebook profile. Before you get too down on your hum-drum life, remember that you cannot compare your day-to-day experiences to someone else’s best moments they choose to share publicly, because you aren’t seeing the whole picture.
This same comparison trap happens in the world of entrepreneurship. It’s easy to look at entrepreneurs that are successful and think that they have the golden touch and can make any business they start succeed. It’s easy to see them as an expert in every aspect of business, when they’ve failed as much as everyone else. I am no exception. Today, I own one extremely profitable business (MarketBeat) and am partners in two very nice side-businesses (GoGo Photo Contest and USGolfTV). I talk about these businesses in my book and on my blog and tout them on my social media profiles. What you don’t see is the trail of failed businesses that I’ve left behind over the years.
I can count 12 distinct online business ideas of mine that have failed or have otherwise never made it off the ground. It’s important to recognize that failure is an important step on the path toward success and people that have had some success are not immune from failure either. Successful people fail as often as everyone else does, they just happen to do a lot more things. After failing enough times, they land on one thing that works well.
To drive this point home, here are some of the failed businesses that I’ve tried to get off the ground:
- Audiobooktopia (2009) — This was going to be a portal website for audiobook readers where they could discover new audiobook content. It was going to make money from affiliate commissions from Audible and Audiobooks.com, but I never figured out the marketing for it and eventually shut it down.
- Podman (2009) — This was going to be a podcast management tool that allowed people to curate their subscriptions online and get a single RSS feed they could put into their podcast player. I gave up on this before finishing development, because I had no idea how to market it or make money from it.
- P2P Lending News (2010–2011) — This was a financial news website that covered the emerging space of peer-to-peer lending. I was banking on the fact that I could earn commissions by referring people to the two big players in the space, Prosper.com and Lending Club, but the business never made more than $1,500 per month and I sold it off after trying to get it going for a couple of years.
- American Consumer News (2007–2011) — American Consumer News was my network of personal finance blogs that I started in 2007 and effectively shuttered in 2011. The idea was to run several different personal finance blogs and sell text-link ad spots to advertiser’s across multiple websites. It made $50,000 per year at its peak, but it was hammered hard by the first Google Panda update in 2011. It eventually became a shell of its former self and I sold off the personal finance blogs one-by-one for a few thousand dollars each.
- Niche Sites Project (2011) — In 2011, I was working on building out a network of dozens of small niche sites that would generate a few hundred dollars in AdSense revenue each month individually. The “exact match domain” update to Google’s algorithm killed this project after I had invested the money to build out about ten sites.
- WP Mechanic (2012) — This was the first business that I started after quitting my day job at Factor360. The idea was that it was going to be a productized consulting service that did exactly one thing — speed up people’s WordPress sites. We were able to generate some sales, but I quickly discovered most people who needed our service had a rat’s nest of 25+ plugins on their websites. I would have had to raise the price substantially to make it worth my time to do the work.
- Matthew Paulson Consulting (2007–2013) — This was my website design and development business. I built $5,000 websites for several businesses and non-profits throughout the years, but was never able to get it past a 2-man show. I took down the website in 2013, because it wasn’t a good use of my time relative to spending time on MarketBeat (then Analyst Ratings Network).
- CorporateEarningsReport.com (2012) — After I had launched Analyst Ratings Network in 2011, I thought I would launch another website around corporate earnings. The second site never really took off and I had to merge it into the brand Analyst Ratings Network.
- Bitcoin Mining (2013) — I purchased more than $5,000 worth of bitcoin mining equipment in late 2013. I was running the machines in my basement, but had a hard time keeping them running because of the heat they generated and their power consumption. The market changed a few months after I bought them and it was no longer profitable to mine bitcoin. After selling off the machines for parts, I pretty much broke even.
- Video County (2011–2014) — Video County had access to a massive library of video news content from a company called Grab Networks. I was going to build out a front-end website for that library and try to get traffic from SEO, but the site never got more than a few thousand hits each month. I killed the project after it had gone stagnant for a couple of years.
- Lightning Releases (2013–2015) — Lightning Releases was a press release writing and distribution business. It was moderately successful and generated around $200,000 per year in revenue in its second year of operations, but it wasn’t built to scale as well as MarketBeat. As MarketBeat grew and Lightning Releases continued to take up a disproportionate amount of my time, I chose to sell Lightning Releases for a low multiple in early 2015.
- The Market Surge (2015) — I bought a website and a mailing list of 150,000 investors in 2015 and was going to use the same email marketing tactics I had for MarketBeat. The engagement metrics for the email list looked good initially, but I found out they had a very high spam complaint rate and most people didn’t remember signing up for the list. After getting several warnings from my email service provider, I decided to abandon the mailing list and write off the purchase as a loss.
Each of these businesses is an interesting case study of why online businesses fail, but the important lesson is that success usually only happens amid a lot of failure and mediocrity. I’ve failed with new projects far more often than I’ve succeeded. In fact, only one out of five projects that I’ve attempted have been successful. If you were to see these failed projects on my LinkedIn profile and my website, you probably wouldn’t see me as an overnight success. You might even see me as someone who has just gotten lucky a few times. I’m a failure just as much as the next guy.
If you haven’t had the level of success in business that you want, don’t lose heart. If your business is failing right now, you aren’t doomed to failure forever. Failure is an important step in the path to success and you may just need to try a few more new ideas or get a better perspective about what it really takes to get a business off the ground before you can succeed.