What I learned from my past 5 startup failures (Part 1)

My co-founders and I decided to take a 2 week break from startups after 5 failures. I couldn’t take a break so I decided to write up an introspection of the past year and a bit.

Failure #1: SoundVision

I joined SoundVision at the beginning of my freshman year being a total noob to the startup world not knowing anything. SoundVision was an app that converted one’s 3D field of vision into sound. It was made to help those who are visually impaired navigate dynamic and unfamiliar environments.

We worked on it for 8 months and had all sorts of positive feedback. Had a partners in government associations for the blind, and partnered with researchers and professors from all over the world. We kickstarted with funding from local major technology company.

I joined the team just as we decided to enter the Ericsson Innovation Awards 2016, an international competition with a prize of 25,000 euros and with over 800 teams competing.

When I joined, we already had a small code base, so we spent the next 8 months fine tuning, experimenting, but most importantly ensuring our product could win the EIA. That was our biggest mistake.

We didn’t actually explore the market that we were selling to. We prided ourselves being much cheaper, only $1000 compared to $10,000, and slightly more accurate than our competitors. But what we didn’t realize that our product wasn’t good enough to be stand alone so people would essentially be buying $1000 accessories. Visually impaired people willing to spend $1000 for an accessory is an extremely small market.

To be fair, we could have gone back to the drawing board and tried another solution. We didn’t though. I attribute this to first, we didn’t have enough personal connection to the problem, none of us actually had a close friend or family member who dealt with visually impairment. Second, we weren’t a good team, we had a strong skill set but we didn’t work well or get along together. More on my retrospectives about forming a founding team in a later post though…

Summary:

  1. Don’t just build the product, actually get in touch and get constant feedback from your users.
  2. Not all positive feedback is useful, only feedback from your potential users really speak magnitudes, not investors or prestigious competitions.
  3. Live, breath the problem. We started to realize our product wasn’t a replacement to existing solutions when we actually tried to navigate our campus blindfolded with our product and our competitors. (Cane was the best)
  4. Pick your team carefully.
  5. Be more in tune with your target market, random numbers from Wikipedia isn’t enough.
  6. Focus on the problem as a whole, not a small milestone in the journey.

We killed SoundVision this past May.