What I learned failing at 83%

12 months, 6 businesses, 5 failures

Dan Norris
Jun 5, 2014 · 5 min read

In the last 12 months I’ve had 6 different business ideas. 5 of them failed. This is what I learned.

Launch metrics don’t matter

After achieving some early success with WP Curve, we thought it would be a good idea to launch a paid community. We spent a few weeks planning and launched it to our email list getting 32 signups in the first week.

This compared to 10 signups for WP Curve in the first week.

We were extremely excited!

By the end of the month we had 42 members, the following month we had 30. A month later we’d shut it down.

We’ve built WP Curve from those first 10 customers, 11 months ago to 275 customers today ($20,000 monthly recurring revenue). We’ve done that with momentum.

Growth > Launch metrics.

It’s very hard to do more than one thing at once

Every time we launch these businesses, we think even if we don’t get a lot of signups we can just let it run itself. I’ve found there’s really no such thing. Even our SAAS product which has fairly low levels of support is constantly on my mind.

When you are working on 3 or 4 things you are always questioning where to focus your time. You confuse other people as well. It’s hard enough to get known for one thing let alone multiple things.

When you find a good thing, stick to it.

Success is rare — double down

This last 12 months I’ve failed at 83%. Before that, I’d failed at 100%. 6 years working on the one idea, never once earning half of my previous income as an employee.

I know a lot of great entrepreneurs who aren’t achieving the success that they deserve.

Unfortunately entrepreneurship is a lottery. If you find success, don’t assume you have the golden touch. You’re lucky.

Even Donald Trump, the man with an ego bigger than his hair piece, admits that luck was a factor in his success.

Double down on whatever has an unusually high amount of momentum.

Embrace luck if it favors you.

Passive income is a myth

All businesses in my experience occupy mindshare and take up your time to some extent. If that wasn’t the case why would Tim Ferriss have sold his famous 4 hour hands off business?

If you could truly have a business that didn’t require any input from you at all, you would never sell it, period.

It’s not possible, so don’t chase it.

Chase scalable revenue, not passive income.

You are only seconds away from a potentially life changing decision

On this day, 12 months ago I wrote my monthly report entitled Pivots, pirouettes and backflips — Informly May monthly report. After 12 months full time and around $60,000, I was:

  • Making $476 in monthly recurring revenue.
  • Spending $2,000 / month on expenses.
  • Shutting down 2 of 3 products.
  • 1 month away from having to get a job.
  • Fucking clueless

I launched WP Curve 2 weeks later.

12 months later we are a team of 13 people in 10 cities, 275 clients, zeroing in on a quarter of a million dollars in annual recurring revenue and I have a co-founder (who’s been on TV talking about our business!).

You’ve gotta love entrepreneurship.

It’s not all about execution

It’s a common idea among entrepreneurs that ideas don’t matter, only execution matters. This simply isn’t true. For whatever reason, some ideas take off and some don’t.

My execution hasn’t been perfect but I think I did ok. Our community looked sexy, the software was great and the launch was seamless. I’ve built software that does exactly what it said it would do, and people who said they would pay for it, didn’t pay for it. That’s not an execution problem.

Success is a weird combination of ideas, execution, product-founder fit, momentum, luck, timing, trust, team and probably 1,000 other things.

With Informly I figured I’d pick the best of 4 bad ideas and execute it as well as I could. That wasn’t enough.

Ideas matter.

Business is not a science

Like a lot of entrepreneurs, I got very excited reading The Lean Startup. I convinced myself I could just start and apply a scientific process to work out the rest as I went along.

It wasn’t that simple. In fact I ended up paralyzed by analysis. Obsessed with every metric other than the one that mattered — FYPM…

I wish business was a science, I’d probably be quite good at it. But not everything is predictable. Suck it and see.

If something isn’t working, kill it

I’ve been criticized for shutting things down too quickly. I’ve copped that from mentors, friends, fellow entrepreneurs and competitors, publicly. Here are some of my favorites:

“Gave up too quickly” Mentor

“3 businesses in the last 12 months, each pursued until the next shiny idea comes along.” Competitor

“You’re flaky, create abandon-ware and haphazardly ‘fire’ paying customers. In the past few months we’ve seen you start with 1 product, add 2 more and watched them disappear just as fast as they appeared. Now you’re working on a completely separate product. Who is going to invest their time in you and your products?” Friend and fellow entrepreneur

The last comment was about WP Curve, the week we launched.

If you are creating, you aren’t failing

In the 18 months I spent failing on Informly, I was also busy doing a few important things:

  • Creating content (around 200 posts, podcasts and videos)
  • Building trust through open posts and monthly reports
  • Building a community around our content and among entrepreneurs
  • Building an email list (5,000 people when we launched WP Curve, 10,000 now)

These are the assets that propelled WP Curve from idea to real business in a few short months. I did a lot of creating in that time. I got some rewards with comments and likes on my blog, but the real benefit is only being realized now.

Tim Ferriss and James Altucher put it well, the best way to monetize a blog is to not monetize a blog.

Planning does not equal success

The main learning I have from the last 12 months is you don’t learn until you launch. Here is the estimated planning effort that went into each of the 6 ideas I started:

  • Web Control Room — 12 months (shut down)
  • Informly Content Analytics — 2 months (shut down)
  • Informly Agency Reports — 3 years (available only to current customers)
  • Content Club — 2 months (shut down)
  • ConvertPress — 7 days (available only to current customers)
  • WP Curve — 2 days

I’ve written a book about my learnings, it has sold over 25,000 copies. You can get it here.

Startup Down

inspirational and harrowing tales from and about startups…

Dan Norris

Written by

Entrepreneur, author & international speaker. Co-founder @blackhopsbeer author of #7daystartup & 3 other best sellers. http://dannorris.me/

Startup Down

inspirational and harrowing tales from and about startups around the world.

Dan Norris

Written by

Entrepreneur, author & international speaker. Co-founder @blackhopsbeer author of #7daystartup & 3 other best sellers. http://dannorris.me/

Startup Down

inspirational and harrowing tales from and about startups around the world.

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