The entrepreneurial roller coaster ride

Have you ever been so excited about something in your life, more excited than anything else ever, just to have it crashed and burned to the ground? It’s tough, painful and puts your whole life in perspective, mainly because you care so damn much about building something from the ground up, that you anticipate would create value not just for your self, but others too.

Approximately 3 years ago, I stepped into a whole new world, when I began my journey in tech entrepreneurship. When my business partner and I started, it was my first real endeavour into true entrepreneurship. I was blindly consumed by the big picture of how successful my tech company (Sharingear) would become, and made all the classic leap of faith mistakes first time entrepreneurs make. Today we parked my beloved startup, in the graveyard of bad ideas. Six months ago we simply crashed and burned due to a number of incidents and aspects that easily can be summarized as:

1. Addressable market too small.

2. No pain to be solved.

3. Lack of product market fit.

4. Wrong focus, not pivoting fast enough.

In the beginning, my journey started because I was fortunate enough to be accepted through an accelerator program. For those of you that don’t know, an accelerator program is a business development, cohort-based program, that includes investment capital, mentorship and educational elements which culminate in a public pitch event which is also called “the demo day”.

Portraying the “traction” slide on Demo day, pitching in front of investors to raise capital.

The name of the program was Startupbootcamp Mobile located in the heart of Copenhagen with one of the coolest offices I have ever seen. To throw in some selling points, The Economist wrote that Startupbootcamp is the biggest professional-training system you have never heard of. Only 8–10 companies are selected out of more than 400 applicants, so its not just anybody that goes through the needle eye.

Snapshots from the Startupbootcamp accelerator program, and one of the demo days, wherein also the Crown Princess of Denmark participated.

Going through a 3 month, 100 hours per week intense program, is like obtaining a mini MBA, which I can only recommend to anyone who has the guts and balls to start a company and bootstrap from scratch. Through this program they shape your analytical skills, rational thinking, strategic approach and CEO role, all through pitch training and just in general through solid business development. Through their network they also provide huge access to mentors and investors, which to me is more valuable than their investment capital. I actually ended up meeting and pitching for some of the countrys most prolific Danish rock star investors, such as Christian Stadil and Jesper Buch, and to this day it still feels odd that I can look their contacts up in my address book. Fortunately none of them invested, because we never created a scalable and sustainable sales model, and thank God that didn’t happen, as we would have ended up wasting 24 months and burning €200.000 on trying to find that model. But who knows, maybe we could also have turned everything up side down and ended up batteling our US competitors — Sparkplug.

We bootstrapped the company for approximately 16 months and within that timeline I spent 8 months trying to fundraise, while working on a product and managing a team of approximately 11 interns. We managed to build a full functional product by being persistent on the vision and mission, but unfortunately scaling proved to be an uphill battle — as we where told by many investors, marketplaces are a bitch and extremely hard to scale.

While the company was withering, and walking it’s last mile, going from 2 full time employees and 11 interns, down to only my self, I started desperately to look for a major pivot or to start over, on a new venture. As I started asking questions, unfortunately nothing came up, because I started asking the right questions and validating one assumption after the other — the exact same thing I should have done when I began my journey in the first place (I guess I did not fully believe in the Lean Startup model). After a while I had to accept the status quo and bow down to reality. Ironically every musician I was in dialogue with, all said “what a great idea” or “this is exactly what we need” but at the end of the day, no one really did need such a service, because every musician is struggling for survival and no one has ever any money, as even the established artists are saving every hard earned penny. First the math didn’t add up, as the market was microscopic which automatically induced a flawed business model. Second, from all of my conversations I realized that no one knows their future purchasing habits. In conclusion and in theory it was a noble idea, but I on the other hand, had a blind belief and continued my crusade until all reserves where dried up.

The MVP that turned into a full peer-to-peer marketplatform for instrument rental.s

We built an MVP who turned into an entire platform, pretty much ran out of fuel and I had to watch my co-founder and CTO flee for another startup. It was nerve wrecking, painful, stressful and I wouldn’t want to experience that ever again. I felt that the whole world was watching, pointing a big fat finger at the failure I had become.

In conclusion I am more than happy to have learned more in this failure than I could have in any big outcome (of course I have to put it like this, but there is some truth to it). It was a great lesson, a lesson for life, where I learned more than I could dream of and I am grateful for all the mistakes that I did. If building a great business from a startup was easy, everyone would be an entrepreneur, as they say. I am mostly disappointed in letting down our SBC stakeholders which gave us an immense opportunity, as without them and their support, we wouldn’t have made it where we are today.

But in the words of Gunnery Sergeant Highway: you overcome, adapt and improvise. That’s pretty much what happened during and after the draught of sorrow.

By the time I write this, I’ve found relief and joined a successful and recently VC backed SaaS company with razor sharp focus, that have found their product market fit within the entertainment industry. I have been working there for 6 months by now as a Senior Account Executive and pretty much met all the big players in the music industry, from Universal, Sony, and Warner Music Group, among a myriad of independent record labels, managements and media agencies.

Selfie time upon my first visit to Universal Music Group in London.

Its definitely a different vibe, and a different atmosphere, seeing a company go from angel funding to venture capital and then grow from 5 to 30 employees in just 2 months. I perceive it as a solid tech giant by now if I have to compare it to all the other tech companies I have been around — and I am actually having one hell of a time, as I have become fond of the founders, the team and especially the product and clients. I am certainly not done with my entrepreneurial endeavour, but for now I am actually enjoying the Linkfire ride.

Want to know more about me, then please visit my website: www.eftemie.com