My First Startup. Every Single Mistake
You always remember your first time.
‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained’. I’m a big believer in this ethos.
Snotels was my first startup — my rookie tour, entrepreneurial hazing and first blood, sweat and tears experience. Lots of mistakes. Insane flearning.
At 27, I moved to London and launched Snotels. Any regrets? Zero. Well, that’s not 1000% true. Sure, I’d rather have the money back in my bank. I’d rather my cash and angel money wasn’t evaporated and more importantly, I’d rather have spent those years solving a serious must-have human need.
But do I regret the lessons learned? No way. It was all experience…
Prior to kicking off, I‘d spent 5 years in alpine tourism, living at 9600+ feet at Copper Mountain Resort. The alpine hotel sector was (and remains) this chaotic fragmented market (92% in Europe are independent). When diving deeper, market problems for travellers and hoteliers seemed crystal clear.
Hindsight is 20–20, but earned.
I learned so much, and yet failed. I had some big wins, but Snotels froze.
Snotels launched the world’s first ‘alpine only’ hotel brand, received global press coverage in Reuters, USA Today, The Guardian, Irish Times etc, raised GBP 210k during the GFC and signed 30 hotels in 21 resorts in 6 countries.
But without survival, wins are teachings. Not trophies.
Imagine if, when starting, you could ‘download’ that awesome arsenal of skills and knowledge needed to rock your first startup. “Tank, I need a pilot program for a B2–12 helicopter”. Yeah, that doesn’t happen. Well, not yet.
Stories of startup failure or success won’t give your brain all the benefits of hands-on hindsight, but it’s a freaking awesome way to ‘adopt’ experience.
My rookie mistakes:
- Not understanding and adopting ‘lean startup’ thinking
- Time spent writing a 40+ page hyper-detailed business plan
- Not testing enough… ie. ask 100 hotels to “buy” as step №1
- Giving up all income (ie. bootstrap cash) with only a concept
- Focusing only on the future vision, versus mini grand finals
- Listening to ‘industry elders’ — not proven entrepreneurs
- Asking people to sign NDAs…
- Launching a brochure only (not ‘buying’) site as market testing
- Launching that website in 3 languages
- Thinking that main stream press adds to ‘market validation’
- Considering enquiries from 3 continents — not surgical focus
- Asking customers if they’re interested, not asking them to buy
- Trying to launch a ‘franchise first’ play, without a trading hotel
- Spending on renderings to visualise Snotels ‘brand vision’
- Qualifying, but not enough, potential partners and hotel deals
- Flying to Bormio, Italy to visit ‘ready to sign’ franchise partners
- Finding only dirt, where the Italian hotel was meant to be
- Assuming independent hoteliers had €1m to rebrand as ‘Snotels’
- Pivoting to a capital intensive ‘startup’ real estate model
- Trying to launch a resort euro-real estate play amidst the GFC
- Seeking equity for a €45m portfolio with $100k skin in the game
- Trying to buy hotels in France, but only speaking ‘Australian’
- Asking UK equity firms to absorb €25m French debt (still the GFC)
- Not understanding that French people don’t like British people
- Hearing ‘No’ from 50+ PE real estate investors and not pivoting
- Considering complex OpCo+PropCo ratchet (rat shit) share deals
- “diesel seulement” — Putting unleaded into a diesel car in Grenoble
- Losing a priority PE investor as an ‘Advisor’ was double-dipping
- Pivoting to a hotel technology platform, without a tech co-founder
- Underestimating the timing realities of ‘seasonal’ ventures
- Driving 3 hours with GPS up a mountain to reach a blocked tunnel
- Time burned avoiding becoming an ‘Illegal Alien’ due to visas
- Burning months on fundraising activity, for the new tech concept
- Losing our ‘high priority’ lead investor, only 3 days before close
- Taking a new highly dilutive valuation, after losing our lead angel
- Allowing a mixed cash + service deal from 1 party to close a round
- Closing an angel round with a rapidly ticking winter launch clock
- Too many chiefs and advisors — not enough action-makers
- Getting an office too early, due to government investor scheme needs
- Over-protecting the brand, by amassing 37 international trademarks
- Making platform decisions by time constraints, versus what’s critical
- Using crap ‘off the shelf’ technology, without controlling the IP
- Using tech that didn’t integrate into channel management systems
- Wasting time perfecting perfection (designs, sites and platforms)
- Launching 3 months late, with only 3 ‘booking months’ remaining
- Underestimating the impact of Booking.com’s €1m per day on PPC
- No backup plans for when a team member’s personal life ‘hit the fan’
- Not prioritising my health, nutrition and exercise enough — burnout
- Finding a working model and new supporters, but way too late…
- Not failing faster. Fighting until nothing left in the tank or bank
With hindsight, that’s brutal. But reflection helps inform the future…
In reality, there’s probably a lot more. I take complete responsibility for this failure. Were others involved? Sure. But I was the founder. It was my watch.
Failure sucks, but experience is invaluable and I’m still learning every day.