How NOT to create products — a lesson we learnt the hard way


In 2011 we were full of ideas! Economic revival had given rise to a nasty bout of startup fever and we caught it — we caught it really bad.

We wanted a piece of the action, and could see no reason why our ideas wouldn’t be an instant success — we were a tech team after all, we could develop and write code in our sleep. So we went for it, with idea after idea for products that were bound to make us rich: we had Mixgar (a social jukebox application, for streaming music at a variety of venues) and TaxiLike (a social taxi sharing app, pretty similar to another start-up launched in the same year, called Uber!).

Our ideas were good, but there was a problem. We had solutions, but didn’t take the time to understand the problem these solutions could solve. Ignoring this pretty key element of product developing (hindsight really is wonderful isn’t it!), we went about creating and promoting our ideas.

Take Mixgar for example. For this product we decided to compete in startup contests in Germany, Netherlands, Ukraine, Czech Republic and of course Hungary. The feedback we received was amazing and our ego grew further — after all we won a contest in Ukraine and the Techcrunch wrote about us! We felt unstoppable. So we quickly funded a company and even found a CEO to lead it.

A downhill spiral

In 2011 we developed feature after feature, without giving a second thought to UX — something that makes our modern day selves recoil with shame! As we had enough features to get going, we started to show our incredible product to potential users with the greatest of confidence and the feedback was bad — really bad. They didn’t understand our product at all. And what was our reaction? We were hurt that they couldn’t use our awesome application!

Six months passed us by and we only had 5–10 users — not great for an award winning startup!

Despite the glaringly obvious UX issues staring us in the face we continued on our quest, blinkers firmly in tact. We had turned into showmen — promoting our product, networking and shouting it from the rooftops. In fact, we did all of this so well we even got an angel investor.

And with that another six months passed…

A desperate struggle

We were running out of money, but even then the progress we made was nothing short of neglectful. We started to acquire paid users but the money was coming in slowly — really slowly.

It was at this point we finally started to do what we should have done from the beginning — we researched the market, talked to users, pivoted the product and slowly started to get users, which in turn delivered income. Armed with all the right information, it became really clear how much we needed to change about the product and how little we actually knew about our market.

With a relentlessly enthusiastic CEO and an impatient investor left standing, the rest of the team gave away their shares in the product for a nominal sum of money to the investor — assured that the product would benefit from further development under the investors watchful eye.

Six months later the project was closed and the CEO wasn’t given a fair chance to participate.

So we learned the hard way…

We learned quite a few really hard lessons throughout this process, which might help you in your next venture. Here are five key mistakes we made and what you should do differently.

Discover your market and audience: when we came up with the idea we knew very little about the market we wanted to get into and the users we wanted to acquire. We were in love with an idea — a solution — and we did not care further. This is a common mistake to make. If you have a solution, you go looking for a problem to match it.

Be sure that a problem truly exists before you begin developing your solution.

You work for your customers and users: we wanted to blow the minds of the investors and the startup community, but paid no attention to our customers. Remember, if you don’t understand the problems and needs of your customers, you understand nothing.

An investor is not a founder: when we sold our shares to the investor for a nominal sum of money we basically closed our startup ourselves. Because an investor is not a founder and he never can be. In most of the cases the founders know what is good for the product and how to manage it.

The positives

As painful as it was, this hurtful journey taught us some valuable lessons on product development, even if it did cost us dearly in blood sweat and tears.

We’ve learnt a lot about ourselves, founding venture is an expensive, but very straight way to achieve self-awareness.

We built some very valuable connections at the startup events we attended, which later we were able to use at Digital Natives.

It’s fair to say that as human beings, we are wired to like solutions, this how our brains work. This is why we fall in love with our solutions and pay insufficient attention to the problem we want to solve.

We learned how to change our mindset, and focus on what is important — our users needs. We’re also sharing our experience with our clients so they can benefit from it too.

After this “failure” we did not give up on developing our own products, in fact, we are currently working on two different startups: Nostromo and Greenfox Academy.

And what are we doing differently with these? We want to solve problems which exist and which we understand, on a market we know and with an approach that is better.

If you’re thinking of creating a startup or any venture, then I hope you can use some of our experiences to make your one a success.