5 Lessons From My Startup Flop You Don't Need to Learn the Hard Way
Entrepreneur's New Year’s Guide
If you look up quotes related to learning from one’s mistakes, you’ll end up with hundreds. Everybody knows that mistakes or failures draw valuable lessons, yet we avoid finding those gems as best we can.
I recently completed my crash course from the guru, known as failure. What a ride it was. He taught me lessons I would have never received from the beautiful lady, known as success.
Today, I’ll expose my story about failure to increase your chances of success.
The story is about my failed startup, Foja Dara, which pulled me into self-pity until I extracted lessons that will help me succeed in the future.
Here’s a condensed version of my story, followed by my reflections on this fiasco.
After procrastinating for years, in 2014, I finally started my own business. The wonderful idea was to open an e-shop to sell traditional shoes to the international market. Why shoes? Because a funny-looking, yellow-nosed gnome met me in the park and told me to open a shoe store.
Folks, living in the U.S., UK and Europe, were my target segment, and I got busy setting up shop. To keep things short and sweet, I've summarized the major steps I took to realize this dream of mine.
- Name the brand. First, I embarked on naming this baby of mine, and after contemplating thousands - okay, hundreds -- of names, I arrived at Foja Dara, which was a traditional name for a traditional product. So far, so good.
- Source the product. To get a smooth supply line, I met a couple of vendors, and it took numerous visits to markets far-and-wide to finalize the products and the subsequent suppliers. I also grabbed some of my samples and had the poor things shot and edited by a professional photographer.
- Ship. To get my product on customers’ doorstep, I got my hands on the cheapest most reliable, shipping company to deliver boxes to my anxiously awaiting customers -- I wish. I also sorted out the packaging part by finalizing a logo and hiring a print company to brand my stuff.
- Make a website. One night, I had a weird dream, in which a funny-looking, yellow-nosed gnome advised me not to hire a developer and to make the website myself. Since I had experience with WordPress, I thought, “It’s just about finding a theme and splattering my logo all over the place after installing a few plugins. That’s it.” So I followed my goblin’s counsel to a T, and did just that. I took me nearly six months of toiling and tinkering before I was somewhat satisfied with the site. Fortunately, the domain has now expired, and it can no longer be seen - not even by Google’s bots -- phew! If you’re interested in having a look at the remains of my brand, head over to Foja Dara’s Facebook page, which doesn’t seem to expire on its own.
Finally, in late 2014, I launched. To gain traction, I pushed the word out about my startup on social media, hoping people would notice my brilliant merchandise. Here’s what happened next.
On Day 14, I closed the shop for good.
It felt like I’ll never be able to mend my damaged ego. Surprisingly, I pulled myself back up way quicker than I thought I would. And as soon as the tide of sour emotions receded, I set upon extracting lessons from this dud of a project.
Here are the lessons I learned from my startup flop. Hopefully, it will help you have a better chance of success in your ventures.
1. You can’t do everything by yourself.
A close review, in retrospect, revealed that I tried to do everything by myself. Even though I had a shoestring budget, there were things I should've let specialists handle. The most glaring example of this blunder was my website. Who in his right mind tries to set up a professional ecommerce website by learning from tutorials? Well, I guess it was me. Lesson one - outsource.
2. You can’t go far alone.
An African proverb says, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
That sums up another blunder that slipped into my blind spot while I was rolling. The thought of enticing someone to join my struggle never crossed my mind. With like-minded partner(s), I could’ve made fewer mistakes and leveraged their energy to push off with more force. Lesson two - synergize.
3. You can’t succeed if you’re not passionate about it.
In hindsight, I realize this startup was for the sake of a startup. Not even a tad bit of passion or a sense of mission behind it. I should have gone deep enough to identify something that I was passionate about. If you are not crazy about your offering, stop right there. Come up with something you can do zealously for the rest of your life. Lesson three - dig deep.
4. You can’t chase two rabbits at a time.
Chasing two rabbits will leave you panting and empty-handed. I was trying to set up a business while still working a nine-to-five job. Since I had a full-time day job, I spent a better part of an entire year getting everything in place. This meant working from nine to midnight, when the only break was my commute back home. The result? Compromised job performance and a failed business as the topping. Lesson four - focus.
5. You can’t afford not to plan for success.
Even if I had struck upon success, by any chance, I wouldn’t have been able to handle it. Why? Because I paid little attention to what was next, in the case that my venture was a roaring success right off the bat. To top it off, I had a backup plan for failure, and it worked! Yippee. Lesson five - burn your boats, folks.
I can rant on about my failure for eternity, but the lessons have been learned. It’s time to move on. It’s time to make a set of entirely new mistakes, and learn more. That’s how we grow, expand and eventually succeed.I’ll bow out with these famous words, “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”