7 Lessons I've Learned from a Failed Startup [Updated]

If you didn't know, I've already been the co-founder of one FAILED startup.  And I am extremely proud of it.

It pushed me so much further than I could have ever imagined. The lessons that I learned were invaluable and priceless. I'd like to share my startup experience with you.


My Startup Experience

First off, I had THREE jobs. Yes, three. Why?  At that time, I had only begun to consult in a professional capacity. And as many of you know, it takes time to get your name out, so I needed to supplement my income by means of a second job. A job as night auditor at a local hotel to be exact. Quite a switch from working for a Fortune 500 company.

Here's what an average day looked like for me:

7am: Arrive home and go to sleep.

12pm: Wake up and have lunch

1pm to 9pm: Startup work, consulting, bookkeeping, prospecting for new business

9pm to 10pm: Power nap

10pm to 11pm: Get ready and drive to work

11pm to 7am: Night Audit

Then the cycle began all over again. I did this for 7 months straight. And the fatigue alone nearly killed me, literally.  BUT....I don't regret a minute of it. See, a failure can be worth so much more than a success. When you fail, it forces you to ask the hard questions. Why did it fail? Did I not try hard enough? Did I not do my homework? Wrong timing? You’re forced to face reality, to re-evaluate yourself, your priorities, your reasons, and your motivations. And the best of all, it teaches you what not to do in your next startup.

Here are some of the lessons I've learned:

1. Never Assume, Always Test and Validate

This is so important. You need to validate whether your product or service solves a real pain point or problem for your customer segments. And in the beginning, everything you believe of your business idea is an assumption (Ex: your customers, your product, your market size, etc). Don’t let your bias blind you.

Find out if someone willing to pay for your solution. Learn how to test this prior to building your product. Avoid wasting a large amount of cash on an idea that will never sell.

When we launched our startup, we did none of the above. We assumed the market we were targeting it was impossible to validate. Instead we launched with the hopes of validating as we went along. Bad idea.

2. A Good Co-founder is Worth Their Weight in GOLD

Having the right co-founder is extremely important. My co-founder was an excellent complement and the voice of reason. There were days where I wanted to throw in the towel, and he helped me stick with it. There's a bond that happens. In most cases you can be brutally honest with each other and they won't judge you.

3. Always Have a Technical Co-Founder/Equity Partner

Trust me, it’s so much harder to get things done when you don't have someone on your team capable of handling the software development. Fortunately, we managed to secure an excellent developer for awhile, but not having a developer as part of the team really held us back.

4. You Are MUCH More Resilient Than You Think

Had someone told me I was going to work a night audit job, get 4 hours sleep a day, be a consultant, and run a startup, I would have told them that they're crazy. I knew I was resilient, but this really pushed me to the next level. NEVER underestimate your capabilities.

5. Never Be Afraid To Call Yourself a Startup

For some reason when we launched, we didn't want to be labeled as a startup. We thought if we called ourselves a startup we'd be perceived as less reputable. What we failed to see was the enormous amount of support and programs available for startups, such the Venn Garage.

6. Never Be Afraid To Ask For Help

When you're in a situation or scenario, don't be afraid to ask others for help. Just make sure that those you turn to have "earned" experience and have lived through a similar scenario.  In other words, don't simply turn to your family and friends for advice. Most often you’ll get a watered-down advice simply because they love and support you, and most likely don't want to hurt your feelings.

As well, when it feels like everything about to fall part, it's not.

7. "Brick and Mortar" Products Can Sink Your Startup

When we launched, we bought products that we "thought" our customer segments wanted, and it was expensive. Only buy products to sell if you've properly validated that your market is willing to pay for it. And make sure that it's profitable.

So, my question to you is: Have you ever failed in business? What lessons did you learn from it?    

PS: In case you’re wondering, my first startup was called PickMyPlace. It was a real estate property marketplace and industry professional network. Best example I can think of would be Bigger Pockets with a marketplace for rentals.

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Over the course of this past year I've spent much time researching about online marketing, reading many discussions on the benefits of content marketing, blogging, and blog commenting, and how it can positively impact brands. At first I can honestly say I didn't see the value of commenting, with the exception of potential back links to my website.  So when I came across an article which spoke of a no-follow rule (which many blogs use to prevent any back links from being published) you can imagine my reluctance. I just didn't see the value.

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Is Social Business Efficacy Based On Hustle And Creativity?

This is a guest post by Ryan Critchett (@RyanCritchett)

The common problem with social media for business is that it takes a long time to break through. In many cases, you'll be engaging for months before you see any huge returns. It's all part of the game. You have to break through the surface. You have to work your way into people's minds and that's going to take an enormous amount of tenacity, hustle and creativity.

First, I'll start off by saying that I jumped head first into a social media strategy over the last year for my iPhone repair company, and I've been able to generate leads locally, and nationwide. I've tapped into an enormous opportunity to reach my customers through Twitter, and I've been ruthlessly taking advantage of it every day. In this post, I want to answer some questions and share some discoveries I've made along the way.

How Much Time Should I Spend?

A huge question in social media that has no standard answer is the time question. Should it be an hour a day? Two? Should you go all out and spend eight hours a day engaging with people?

Here's my solid answer: you should stream and reply to information relevant to the specific services or products your company provides, for at least two hours a day. Do this at the very least, four times weekly. So, the minimum effective engagement time, is four times weekly, for at least two hours a day. I've tried three times weekly, for an hour a day. I've tried randomly selecting times to go engage with people and nothing really hits the spread point like this. If that's too much time for you to spend talking with people on Twitter, or responding to people's posts on Facebook, then simply put, you're not going to get the results you want.

Being effective in social media largely has to do with your level of hustle. Are you willing to put in the multiple hours a week to really make an impact? Are you willing to recognize that engaging with customers, though indirectly marketing, is in fact a great lead generator? Once you make the mental shift into believing in the power of the word of mouth of social media, nothing can stop you. But, what if you can't find people talking? How do you go about that? The easiest strategy I've found so far that continues to work wonderfully for me is simply..

Stream And Reply

You have to find a way to stream conversations about specific keywords in your industry, and reply to all of those conversations. On Twitter, for example, I'm replying all day to the search: iPhone near:"Philadelphia, pa" within:1000mi - And that streams an endless supply of people talking about iPhones. Do they necessarily need their phones repaired? No, and that's the trick. You can't always be trying to sell, you need to focus most of your time on building.

One conversation with someone about the flashlight option on their iPhone, gets me calls two weeks later from someone they told about my services. It's really simple. You're making people remember you by talking to them about something. You don't really have to do any marketing! It just sticks, and if you have something people want, the probability for lead generation is definitely there. But, there also is another element necessary in really gaining some momentum out there. Besides hustle, besides streaming and replying to as many people as you can, you have to..

Implement Some Creativity

Creativity is one of your most powerful weapons. It can help you to truly have the edge over your competitors, and to make a meaningful impact on the audience you're trying to reach. Here's an example. Very recently, I realized that there was a very ubiquitous hashtag being used by iPhone users, #teamiphone. It symbolizes a worldwide team of iPhone users. People who tweet with that hashtag are true iPhone users, willing to represent the awesome piece of technology, and the fact that they're all on a team. Team iPhone! How could I, an iPhone repair company, apply creativity to that situation? Many ways:

  1. I started responding to tweets with the word iPhone in them, using the #teamiphone hashtag at the end to let people know I'm a part of their team.
  2. I created a hashtag of my own, that signifies the fact that I repair iPhones FOR TEAM iPHONE! The hashtag is simply: #teamiphonerepair.
  3. I've created a video series to entertain and connect with the iPhone user base, that talks about broken iPhones we worked on, and the story behind how they broke! It's brand new, but is definitely turning some heads and building a ton of trust

Here's one of our latest:

The Most Important Identification

I don't claim to know everything about social media. I'm no expert. I'm just someone who understands people, what makes them comfortable, and how to influence their buying decisions through social platforms. I can tell you that the most important identification I've made thus far has been that without the hustle to engage at the minimum effective level, and the creativity to truly breakthrough and entertain while spreading awareness, you'll get lost in the sea of noise that is social media for business.

Hustle and creativity are the key words. You can't be tech savvy, and do well in social media. It's going to take an immersion in trying to make this work, a lot of passion, and putting in more hours than the next guy. That's how you win.

Guest Post: Ryan Critchett  (@RyanCritchett) is a serial entrepreneur in progress, an avid meditator, a running junkie and the owner of RMCtech,  (@RMCtech), a tech repair company specializing in iPhone repair, and iPhone App Development.