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47 Comments

I failed 5 startups, what next?

I'm at a crossroad. Did startups with friends but I felt their engagement was low. I think the next thing for me will be doing something solo. Described it a little in the article. Any thoughts ?

  1. 4

    Looks like you worked on way too many things that are not even related to each other.
    Going solo has its own advantages and disadvantages too.

    Below is some notes from the ebook I wrote for Engineering Managers/PMs/Architects who want to build their own small profitable projects

    I am a dev. How can I handle marketing?

    As a dev, you will be naturally more inclined to build features rather than talking to customers and doing marketing and sales. Come out of this loop and follow the below strategies that have been working for most dev founders to get ‘that traction.’

    1. Build In Public - This is the latest trend where most devs keep posting updates typically on social media as they make progress. This could be posting about the landing page they designed, getting the first signup, creating a waitlist, spinning infrastructure, showing the cost of infrastructure, and showing the first paying customer. Note that ‘build in public’ is not always about the positive things. You can also post things like payment bills, hitting churn, losing customers, your product getting hacked, etc. too. Anything and everything that people like to know can come under ‘BuildInPublic’. This strategy is typically used on Twitter. See more here on the latest Tweets around this hashtag: #buildinpublic https://twitter.com/search?q=%23buildinpublic
    2. Marketing Week & Development Week: This is another trend where most devs want to block a full week to only market the product without working on dev work. This would be difficult initially as devs are more prone to pick coding. But eventually, this will help you to block specific time (a full week) for marketing activities like cold outreach, writing content, etc. This can be further tweaked to a 3-Day dev work and 3-Day Marketing work, too, based on what works for you. You can also cheat this by building a side-project during the Marketing week, which will help market your main product.
    3. Get a non-tech co-founder: As a dev founder, there are high chances you always look at a problem in a tech way. By bringing in a co-founder who is non-tech, you can accelerate your development(coding) activities while your co-founder can concentrate on non-dev activities like marketing/sales/growth hacking, etc.
    4. Outsource marketing/sales to someone: Instead of bringing in a co-founder, you can also see outsourcing marketing/sales activities to someone. There are agencies/freelancers who can do pretty much everything - building side-project to accelerate growth, researching data, writing content, doing cold outreach, etc. But be careful with your outsourcing partner to define your goals clearly.

    I am a marketer. How can I handle the tech side of things?

    If you are a marketer and looking to pick and build profitable Micro SaaS products, there are a few ways. You can look for a co-founder on platforms like MicroSaaSHQ, Reddit, and Indie Hackers who can build products with you. But you should clearly state your core strength and what you can bring to the table. You can improve your chances by creating designs and a waitlist of users; having these will make it relatively easy to get a tech co-founder.

    The other alternative is to build this by yourself using tools like Bubble. Bubble is capable of building good products.

    There are many Bubble tutorials to get you started. For example, GetBiyo is built on Bubble, got funding, and is a profitable product. Yep, another product built on Bubble got good traction and a few paying users. Learning Bubble can help you build your own MVP too. Another option is to outsource the tech work, but this could get costly in the initial days when you have no validated product or market reach.

    1. 4

      Thank you. Definitely building the next one in public. I went back and described all of these startups as a first step for engaging more with a community.

      I don't really enjoy no code for building the core of the app, writing code always felt faster. But, hey, I'm trying to do a lot differently the next time, who knows!

      I'm definitely looking at outsourcing some tasks. I am in a great position with my day job, I can spend some money on getting help. I also don't want to take my time away from people close to me because of "the next big startup".

      1. 3

        Good to hear that you are trying things differently this time. I also write a lot of stuff around Micro SaaS Ideas and we have a good community of builders too. If you are keen on getting into Micro SaaS, you may check it.

        Yeah, no point in building 'the next big startup' and not enjoying the journey!!

  2. 2

    Solo can be rewarding but is very tough (doing this now)

    When you are solo, there is no-one coming to save you.

    You essentially have multiple full time jobs at once.

    There are benefits though...

    By doing this you become a well-rounded entrepreneur who is competent in many different fields

    1. 1

      Yeah, but what if you're not solo and there still is no one to help? My experience sometimes.

      Let's hope we end up on the flip side. Good luck with your project!

  3. 2

    If 5 of them failed then 1 / 6 did not.

    In the end, while you are standing at this crossroad you need to understand for yourself

    (a) what are you really passionate about
    (b) is the problem validated, i.e, probability of success to have this one stick
    (c) gather enough interest to engage people to join your journey.

    I have started out solo and can't recommend it to anyone.

    1. 1

      Thank you for your input. One thing missing from the article is actually how much I appreciate my team. I feel they suffer from fatigue, as do I. The Sentimatic product seems to land really well, I have no problems engaging customers in PoCs, even paid ones. But execution of them is hard when I'm cash strapped and people are tired.

      Maybe it's just our investor deal that stands in a way? Or I need to take some of them that are ready to abandon their current careers in the future and start something new?

      Thank you, it's easy to fall into negativity. I will keep in mind that going solo can be really hard.

      1. 2

        There are two different types of tired. One where you are not motivated to work on the topic anymore, the other one is a physical / mental exhaustion. In the latter, a break might help, while the former is a motivational aspect which might (and I have no idea about how you run your business) could be related to a lack of strategic focus. Which could tie in the the 5/6 failure rate. Maybe it might make sense to focus your strategy ?

        1. 1

          I think it was the physical/mental at some point, we took a break and then... lost the strategic focus. I think your remark is pretty close to the truth. I am planning to revisit the strategy and clearly communicate it. The team wants it too, they suggested new markets, came up with ideas.

  4. 2

    Fail the sixth one!

    1. 1

      Thanks for encouragement! 😅

      1. 1

        Lol, hope you took it the right way. Keep going mate!

        1. 1

          haha definitely, love it!

  5. 2

    This is familiar for me, although not in the realm of startups, more so shifting focus from one potential website project to another as a stream of potentially good ideas keep popping into my head.

    Ive come to the conclusion that you really have to limit your focus to one project at a time, and anything else that does come up has to be treated like a distant cousin. Even when what seems to be a fantastic lightbulb moment enters your head.

    The punishment for not doing is highly likely to lead to the failure of all your ideas.

    1. 2

      Absolutely. I've been kicking ideas around for years, and never really delivered much. So I've recently come to the conclusion to get my ass into gear, and started a series of quick-wins: small projects, using the same stack (so I'm not wasting time learning new things), with a 2-week build/2-week market/1 week consolidation and "how has it gone?" cycle. That's it. If I can't get something out there in two weeks, the ideas are going to the back of the queue.

      1. 1

        I think thats a good way of looking at it. Especially if your solo. Rapid turnaround of ideas and hopefully some good feedback along the way will help to drive you and push you in the right direction for an idea that really does hit it out of the park.

        And again, using the same stack repeatedly, if your happy with it, is going to lead to some great efficiencies. There is a shiny new toy released every single day in the world of SaaS etc and its very tempting to experiment with them all, but if you want to actually get a project up and running, stick with what you know. You can always dedicate one day a week or a month to experimenting with new tools.

        Personally, the only tool I want to learn inside/out right now is Google Sheets, scripting and formula's lol, because i know it would greatly to what Im doing but thats all.

    2. 1

      Thanks for sharing your experience. I feel like this is the right approach. You can have many things going on but you won't be able to focus on them and develop all of them properly. I noticed that even if I don't make the choice conciously, I subconsciously chose a project to give more focus to. But it's associated with loads of stress and unmet expectations.

      Better to choose what to focus on at the right time and enjoy the ride!

  6. 2

    The solo journey can be really really lonely and you get burned really fast. Depends on you really if you can handle the stress - go for it. Specially if you enjoy working solo ✌️

    1. 1

      Ideally, I would kick start something and then hire/contract people to help. Or let someone join later. But to be able to you have to achieve something first... I think I'll try running solo for the next one and then do a comparison of my experience and results.

      1. 2

        Yes. And connect with me on Twitter if you ever need any help or maybe I might learn something from you on the way. Cheers!

  7. 2

    interesting read. Unless you are apt at marketing and selling i would still suggest you to partner with someone who is good at it.

    1. 1

      I am good at marketing and ok at b2b sales. I don't enjoy b2b sales though. Maintining relationships and keeping deadlines is draining for me. Probably to be solved by having a system or a CRM but I still don't like phone calls. I'm really good at presentations, proven by conference talks that got high scores from audience, but they stress me out.

      I think my biggest problem with working with a team was that due to the fact that I was pretty good at those things, I was a natural person to lead the product and the team. And that is really challenging when working with a group of friends.

      1. 1

        Great !. Solo is the right choice for you :-) . All the best.

  8. 2

    I think that going solo can be a really great way to get fully invested in your work and see the most success from it! You'll be able to put all of your focus and energy into your project and see it through more easily without having to worry about coordinating with others. Best of luck to you on your new venture!

    1. 1

      Thank you Alex, I'll do my best. I am now daily collecting product ideas and will start prototyping something soon!

      I'm not rushing it, though. I started learning to draw to do something so different from programming and business. I think I need to take care of my brain a little, I think I overdid a little with the quantity and commitments related to the startups.

      I checked out your video tool, looks pretty cool! Stutter on playback was pretty bad, if you could improve it with caching/optimisations, it would make a huge difference. I really liked how fast I can get from the article to the promo video.

      1. 1

        Thank you for the feedback! We're definitely working on improving the playback speed and hope to have an update soon.

  9. 2

    Love it. Nothing gives you more freedom and flexibility than building solo!

    Just make sure you build something people are already buying... makes selling A LOT easier.

    Also: make sure you build something in a niche you are actually interested in. The hardest part is staying motivated (in my experience).

    1. 2

      Yeah, I was afraid to go solo up to this point because usually I was loosing faith in the idea really fast. Looking at the story and those 5 failed ones, I think this is because I was being realistic. Group dynamics help keep the enthusiasm but it isn't always for the right reasons.

      I'm trying to find a balance between being reasonably cautious and starting something with optimism. I am really quick to assume my ideas are useless and have no way to succeed. Trying to approach this differently! Been proven wrong when ideas I found out of touch turned into big companies.

      1. 3

        Idea is a multiplier on execution!

        1. 1

          It is! I think this time I'll test ideas by sharing them not overworking them in my head tho.

  10. 1

    Hi Karol,

    I started following you after you requested to indicate the url of my carrd landing page for my fintech startup, Relieva Africa, which you also provided feedback that I've effected.

    I just red your main post on your blog, thanks for writing your experience, very insightful.

    I dropped comment that I will also drop here.

    To me as a business savvy guy, all your failed projects have constant fundamental mistakes under 5 categories of:

    • not having burning passion,
    • great knowledge of the target market,
    • validation,
    • commitment and
    • team with balance domain expertise (tech savvy guy and business savvy guy mostly):
    1. You (and your friends) had a kind of catching-fun-passion for the projects instead of BURNING PASSION that is necessary to create GRIT to sustain building momentum for the projects. Be intentional from beginning in your next projects.

    2. There's no way one can build successful business for market one does not have more than average knowledge of the market and having unquestionable knowledge of the target is the best. At least 1 member of the team must possess this. It is even directly proportional to degree of passion.

    3. Validating the market with potential customers prior to building anything is next after ticking the first 2. The best way that's most value-adding from my experience as a venture designer and builder is to have a real time field test running with small group of potential customers, minimum of 10. (I had 35 in my current fintech project that I just finished validating). The common way is with survey.

    What you did not too good, you built products and started looking for market instead of validating market and start building for the market to scale with the users on product iterations.

    1. Commitment. Can you watch 6 TVs concurrently or maybe spending 10 mins switching between the 6. If you can't get value from doing that please work on becoming unapologetically focus on one thing that matter most. Giving that one thing 70% focus is good while utilizing the remaining 30 on others but giving it >90% is the best. This is what your team members must also conform with.

    2. Complete team with domain expertise.
      Lagos is the number one commercial hub of Nigeria and Africa where the most popular means of transit is through this bus call Danfo. Danfo with driver and conductor always perform better to passenger (customer). Why? Because they have team of 2 with domain expertise: Driver focus on driving effectively while conductor focus on calling passengers and collecting money effectively, both creating efficient ride experience for customers. Relate the analogy to startup.

    Having a complete team from beginning is great but bringing on the remaining team to balance is good at the relevant stage. (My current fintech project is in the process of onboarding technical cofounder to balance the team, after I've validated the idea with real time offline operation)

    1. 1

      I really appreciate such a comprehensive answer. Thank you for engaging in the conversation. I posted my answer here not to copy and paste it!

      https://horosin.com/i-launched-6-startups-in-8-months-and-5-of-them-failed#cl7m02stw00p1gznvclmq5f3j

  11. 1

    Hi Karol,

    Speaking from personal experience, I wouldn't encourage isolation. However, one of the things you can do in solitude is to build a solid foundation for your current or next project in as many aspects as possible e.g. architecture, features, promotion, etc. I would recommend a paper notebook and mind-mapping.

    This way, if you eventually decide to team up with others, you can carefully tweak your model in response to their feedback, or share it with them and improve it gradually and gracefully together. Usually, when a group of people start something that isn't well-formed in their collective minds, it could turn out becoming a grotesque rendition because of all the independent directions each person is pulling it in.

    Imagine being Michaelangelo with a large block of marble and you needed other sculptors to help with a large statue. When would be the ideal time to invite other sculptors to help? Definitely after you had some drawings down and maybe also some preliminary marble work done, right?! Otherwise, the sculpture you thought was going to be Homer of Iliad fame could easily end up becoming Homer Simpson.

    All the best with your project(s) :)

    1. 1

      Thanks for the nice mental framework!

      I feel I need to spend more (productive) time on idea development. As a leader I need to feel like I can strongly stand behind something I lead towards.

      Defnitely not planning to do everything alone. If not getting a co-founder, I am ready to hire contractors or employees as soon as I can.

      1. 0

        I agree with you on that (spending more time on idea development). Foundation is very important, but certain people (hopefully not most) seem to favor moving quickly and stumbling often. Sometimes it's necessary to pause for a bit, take stock, and learn lessons.

        There really isn't anything like failure; it's somewhat a myth of the mind. There is completion, and then there is the process to get there. What people seem to refer to as failure is an event signaling [to them] an arrival at an unwanted final destination [where their expectation was not met], rather than a waypoint to an eventual destination [after due consideration of possible next steps to take].

        It's only truly failure when you make it final in your mind.

        Any updates on what's next?

        1. 1

          Currently I found more energy to work hard on the sixth one. I am focusing on being a good leader and developing vision for the product.

  12. 1

    I have similar story. I always create new sites and try to rank on google without any seo or link building. After 1 year my focus will be on new sites. Now I realized I am missing marketing part.

    1. 1

      Oh, interesting, are you planning to do more marketing now? Any strategy in mind?

      I wasn't doing marketing but I had a good b2b sales pipeline. On the other hand I feel I need to spend more time on the AI part of the product, you cannot wing it with accuracy.

  13. 1

    Thank you for such an interesting and detailed read. I guess there are a lot of things to think about.

    With such an amount of skills and lessons gained, the sixth one will definitely be a success!

    1. 1

      Glad you liked it! I hope for you're right. I'm going to spend some time now to reflect and write down everything I learned.

      1. 1

        That's a great idea - it is very important to look back and analyze the steps you've taken. Keep going!

  14. 1

    Your story is very inspiring, I appreciate the honesty with which you tell your experience.
    I lost my startup during the pandemic, an on-demand beauty services App.
    This business made 40k in revenue before 2020 and after the pandemic, I didn't feel motivated to reactivate it.

    This time I listened to my heart and reason, I gave the startup a stop. And I decided to move forward with a new project where I didn't have to struggle so much because my emotional stability was very affected.

    Taking a break and reevaluating what you want is very valuable.

    I try not to see my experience as a failure, I learned a lot.

    Now I am sure that each new experience makes you stronger.

    1. 1

      Thank you for sharing, Paula. It was pretty challenging for me to write this article and share all the details, including funding. I almost didn't publish it but a person close to me motivated me to do it. And it seems I'm on a writing streak since then!

      Your experience sounds relatable. I am going to spend some time on reviewing my past work now. I am probably going to write it down for myself and, if valuable, share with others.

      Fingers crossed for your new project!

  15. 1

    I think you're spreading your energy over a lot of things at the same time, and that can lead to failure.You need to find a direction that you are good at.And it's hard to find people to start a business with.

    1. 1

      Agreed, I definitely will keep my focus narrow starting now.

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