What I learned when my first Startup idea failed 😳
Everyone has that story — the story of the first idea they committed to, only to have it fall apart before you reach the summit.
My story takes place in 2016 when a bunch of co-workers and I got together to work on an idea that we knew in our guts would change the world. We were going to build a super-smart grocery store app for supermarkets. An app called Kart.
The Grand Idea
We applied for John Keels X, the first program John Keels conducted to support innovation in the country. We all wanted to dabble with IoT and came up with an idea to build an app that guides shoppers to the right isle to find what they need. The whole idea was about improving the retail experience for customers in supermarkets.
John Keels X was the perfect platform for us to push the idea forward cause John Keels PLC owns Keels, a retail supermarket chain in Sri Lanka.
Long story short — we didn’t win the first or the second place in the competition and we didn’t pursue the idea any further.
Flash forward a couple of months, we saw Amazon launching Amazon Go and taking the retail experience to the next level.
If we had pursued that idea, we would have been able to work around the spectrum of that problem.
So what went wrong?
Dedicate Yourself to the Problem
The most important thing I learned from this experience is that as a founder, you need to dedicate yourself to a problem domain.
If you want to change how the world works and drive innovation, you need to pick a mountain to conquer, keeping in mind that most of the time, it’s a mountain to die on.
We realized that when push comes to shove, none of the team members were willing to die on the mountain of improving Retail Experience. And this is where we failed.
But when you limit yourself to a problem domain, your brain starts to tingle with ideas on how you could solve the problem in a grander scale.
For example, I decided back in 2017 that my problem domain was going to be marketing. I wanted to change how marketing worked and that was a mountain I was willing to die on. This got me to work on my current startup, Alakazam.
Understand who pulls the Lever
The next thing I failed to understand as a startup founder was who controlled the levers.
See, when you get started on building an empire for yourself, you tend to want to always be the party in control.
Of course, that’s fair enough. This is your idea, your baby that you’re bringing to life.
If you’re supporting another business, you need to be able to be adapt around that business and become indispensable to them. You need to be as close to the customer as possible, making sure that what you’re building is something they will need, but always being the one with the hand on the lever.
The problem with Kart was that it was too dependent on Keels co-operating with our vision. If they didn’t come on board and implement the necessary procedures (which requires their premises), we wouldn’t be able to do anything with the startup. This is terrible leverage.
So what Amazon Go did was, they went ahead and made their own retail spaces. Cutting out the dependency on the middle man.
If you’re a B2B startup, you absolutely NEED to become one of the two following extremes:
- We will save you so much money that if you don’t take this opportunity you’re stupid
- We will make you so much money that if you don’t take this opportunity, you will go out of business.
Enterprise customers have no interest in any amount of “we will make your life easier”. So keep in mind that you need to go hard if you want a reaction from them.
Get out of your Comfort Zone
When I was working on this startup idea, I had security. This was a bad idea, because that safety blanket made sure there wasn’t enough pressure on me to make Kart successful.
If you’re working on a high-risk project without any pressure that makes you worried about your career prospects or your current job, you’re bound to slack off. That’s why when I started working on Alakazam (which was Cabbage Apps at the time), I quit my job way before I needed to. The funny thing was that I just did it. I didn’t spend nights contemplating whether or not it was a smart decision. I just went ahead and did it cause deep down, I knew that I wanted to go work on a startup idea. And if I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t pursue it again.
So my advice for any would-be entrepreneur is, just do it.
Don’t think too much. Don’t plan for it. Just do it.
Part of being an entrepreneur is dealing with uncertainty and this is a good way of building that muscle.
John Keels X program is still continuing and they had the 2019 edition already. You can keep track of the 2020 program on their website. Below are the beautiful people who were part of it in 2016.
At the end of the Day
These are rudimentary lessons I learned while building startups, and hopefully, as I go on I’ll be able to delve deeper and learn more about the hacks that make entrepreneurship work. These stories will survive for a long time and will be great to reflect back on once I’ve discovered more in the future.