SPOILER ALERT! My startup failed (but I learned). A lot of people are asking me what went wrong and what we could have done differently to avoid this. So, I organized a bunch of articles and blog posts that tried to influence me along the way and which I SHOULD HAVE REALLY LISTENED TO.
This is not just a story of a failing startup, but about a process of learning.
If you are a first-time founder I am sure this is going to be an interesting read, but it will probably not make a difference 😊. I will explain why in the end.
Goosit was born on the 1st of August 2013. Paulo was the one who invited me to be part of his pet project. It was super ugly, but the idea had a lot of potentials. I went in my network, and sold the idea to two UX designers I had worked with before. Both decided to join, and that is how the Goosit team was born: two developers and two UX designers.
In case you don’t know Goosit, we were a platform to plan your trip around the world. A one stop shop for your whole trip (transportation, accommodation, activities, itineraries organization with collaboration from friends).
I love this quote and I think it’s true for a lot of people who want to join the startup world. A lot of people told me they want to create a startup and work for themselves, but that is far away from the truth. They just want the glamour, not the hard work!
Just a few months after we had started working together, our first UX guy decided to leave. Developing the platform took too much of his free time, while he wanted to enjoy more of his life. That left us down to only three guys.
You can read everywhere that one of the most important things in a startup is the TEAM. Without a doubt, this is the most significant factor for me.
Our UX founder was the only one, who did not quit his daily job to work on the startup. That caused him to always be delayed with delivery, and giving us all sort of excuses for this delay. That hurt us, and caused a lot of frustration. Eventually, he had to leave because of personal issues, leaving us down to only a team of two.
Once you identify that a person is not a good fit, you should let them go and not return. But hey, as good founders and believers, we did not LISTEN.
Our former UX founder solved his personal problems and wanted to come back to Goosit. We decided to take him back, so he could help us out with a lot of UX problems we were facing. Of course, we talked about it and I told him:
Me: Hey, about those excuses, it cannot happen again and you need to give me your word for it.
Him: Of course, I know!
What do you think happened? Yep, nothing changed. Same old, same old.
Are you saying that you failed because of this one founder? Of course not, but this consumed a lot of our energy, and time, which we should’ve been putting towards our product.
2. Startup acceleration program
In 2014, we got selected for the Lisbon Challenge Acceleration program. We were super excited: it was the first validation that indicated our idea was not so bad after all. That was the moment we decided to quit our jobs and embrace the startup life.
It was an amazing experience to work together for 3 months with 20 other startups. We grew our network, heard a lot of success stories and got mentored by:
Nuno Machado Lopes (@nlopes) | Twitter
The latest Tweets from Nuno Machado Lopes (@nlopes). Managing Director of the Lisbon Challenge Accelerator, Co-founder…
I cannot express enough how much I have learned in those 3 months. We often met people from different markets, with various skills, and who gave us tons of advice.
We listened to the first advice we received:
If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.
- Reid Hoffman
We launched Goosit in the first week, and no, it was not a hockey stick :)
Unfortunately, we made a lot of bad decisions due to rapid acceleration: there were two travel startups (Planedia and Inviita) competing directly with us, with the same value proposition. That was the reason we went into competition mode and made many mistakes. We started to build features like crazy. That compromised the quality, our platform was full of bugs. We even had one in the sign up process! Our product would just not work (shame on us).
The process to go on an acceleration program requires a lot of time and energy. Yet, you will also learn a lot about business. Later, we tried to go to Startup Bootcamp Amsterdam, as I had met a few times with Mark Wesselink, who gave us a lot of valuable feedback. Talking with the guys from Startup Bootcamp, it seemed that they would have been a better fit for Goosit.
If you are planning to join one of those programs (I would totally recommend it, at least once in life): Try to talk to them before, and see if they can really offer the help you need.
Launching features fast whilst compromising the quality was a big mistake. It took a while for us to understand that simple is somehow better, and that we thus needed to improve the quality of our product.
We were not gaining any traction: We had only a few users coming to the platform, and started to wonder what was going on. So, we turned to growth hacking, another thing you keep hearing about in the startup world, through articles like how company X managed to increase its conversion on their landing page by x%.
As good first time founders we listened, and we started creating many different landing pages. We created A/B tests to see which page performed better, but the difference between the tests was only 0.5%. In addition, we tried advertising via Facebook/ Google/ Twitter ads to increase our user base.
We managed to get a few new users, but they were not really creating meaningful travel plans. Our conclusion for that low conversion? The platform lacked certain features, like a weather forecast or the possibility to let users add their own pictures (our backlog was full of it). Consequently, we added a bunch of features to the platform, but that was another mistake: The Next Feature Fallacy.
Finally, we learned that we needed to talk to our users and needed to understand them better, to discover what they really wanted. So, we send an email to over 500 users, and a lot of their responses proved to be super valuable feedback.
Building on their feedback, the platform improved, and we started to see results: Goosit got featured in some blog posts, which got us some traction. That was AWESOME, and made us feel on top of the world.
Marketing? We knew nothing about that. Why would we care about that? If the product is good, money will come right? A Better mousetrap won’t work anymore.
Because we did not have a marketeer in the founding team, we had to hire someone to help us out. We put a job up on AngelList and we managed to find two junior marketeers willing to work for FREE. Cool, now we had employees and we were growing :)
The problem? It made us slow: One was quite talented and eager to learn, but the other was really bad. Again, we had repeated our mistake of not firing fast (enough).
Another important factor was that we kept investing in acquisition, while our problem was retention. Don’t bother about the acquisition or growth hacking until you have a good retention on your platform.
Goosit was a travel app, we were in the travel market, and although that is a market with money, and groups, there is also a lot of competition. Our platform could be used by anyone in the world, but it had not crossed our minds that we needed to narrow our target group. This led to us to spend way too much time on finding the right users for our product.
For some weird reason, we had invested our on money instead of searching for an investment. We wanted to be independent and build a sustainable business. The problem was that we spent too much time doing things wrong (learning) and forgot about the money.
Our business model was based on affiliate fees. If someone would book an accommodation or transportation, we would earn a commission. But that wasn’t enough. If you want to understand more about it, read this: (Why you should never consider a travel startup).
Withour own money was almost gone, we had to find a job. Yet, we still believed in Goosit. Paulo decided to get some freelance work, and I decided to go back to the job market.
Searching for a job, I ended up at Trifork Amsterdam, who then became a shareholder of Goosit. It sounded like a very good plan. I would work four days a week for them and one for Goosit. I would get paid and they got shares.
The problem with that is that Paulo and I lost focus. We were getting tired and the project started getting less love. It had taken too long to learn how to do things right. And yes, the main reason is that we did not really listen to all the advice that we had read or heard.
Do you know that feeling when you do something while your mom said you should not do so, and she looks at you and says:
What did I tell you?
If you are a first-time founder, nothing seems to be a problem. Although all these things might be happening to you, you will insist on making the same mistakes ☺️ and that is allright, but just do it FAST.
From the 18 mistakes that kill startups we managed to make a lot of them:
3. Marginal Niche
6. Hiring Bad Programmers
7. Choosing the Wrong Platform
9. Launching Too Early
10. Having No Specific User in Mind
11. Raising Too Little Money
16. Not Wanting to Get Your Hands Dirty
17. Fights Between Founders
18. A Half-Hearted Effort
Is Goosit going to die? Are you continuing with it? Are you re-doing it? Are you selling it? Are you going for a sabbatical year like other founders after they fail?
Honestly, I don’t know yet. Maybe I still need to make one other mistake; not knowing when to quit 😉