Putting StartupToDo to sleep; lessons learned.

September 29, 2009 – June 29, 2011

Well, that sucked.

I disconnected StartupToDo.com this afternoon. It was time – past time. If you’ve ever had to put a member of your family who happens to be a cat or dog to sleep, you have a good sense of how I feel right about now. Not that bad, but still.

I emailed the few remaining subscribers, made arrangements for the remains (data) to be interred on another server, and let them in on my new project. Then I sat down to write this post.

The rest of this post is a catharsis of sorts; these are three lessons I paid a very high price for. Heed them.

  • The single biggest mistake I made was not listening to the criticisms of prospective and actual customers. From the private beta on, way too many people said the same thing – good content, but too complicated. If I had let myself hear the doubt in their voices, taken seriously the “I don’t understand” emails, I would not have coded myself into a corner, stuck with a confusing mess of features. It hurts to listen, it’s easy to rationalize your way around listening, but believe me, they are right, you are wrong, because they choose what to spend their time, money and attention, not you.
  • Speaking of money, have enough money in the bank to get you through. For me “through” meant becoming a profitable microISV; for you it might mean landing your first equity investment. Each their own. But trying to make real your software idea while holding down either a day job or fulltime freelancing is a hellish monkey to have on your back.
  • You have to work on your startup every single day, even if it’s only for a few minutes a day. Let me explain that one. Having written 5 books, the first and the last were the easiest to actually write because near as I could, I wrote at least a page or two every single day. Working on what you are creating every single day has (at least) 4 huge benefits:
    – You can pick up where you left off in less time, with fewer false starts.
    – There’s less opportunity for Resistance in all its guises to make mischief.
    – You get to market faster.
    – You build momentum.

I made plenty of other mistakes, but those were the big three. I hope you’ll take them heart so you won’t end up having to write you own ‘lessons learned’ post.

Comments

  1. I am actually surprised StartupToDo wasn’t successful enough.

    I think it is a great idea, more and more people will need it (more and more online entrepreneurs), your expert status should help with conversions and finally it is scalable.

    Is there any other post on your blog where you talked about how StartupToDo isn’t performing as well as you’d like? (except this one: http://47hats.com/2011/05/im-back-heres-why/)

    Have you actually tried to pivot at all or did you only optimize what you already had? What I mean by that is maybe the core concept is good but people need it presented differently?

    Did you consider selling startuptodo instead of putting it to sleep? So much content in there, it would be a shame to lose it.

    So many questions for you :) (have you received my answer to your email by the way?)

  2. If you had the time to spend on startuptodo, what features would you have changed/removed? Like Aymeric above, what would you have done differently in terms of product and/or marketing?

  3. Bob, sorry to hear this, for what it’s worth I found the service fairly useful.

    I didn’t receive one of these emails you mention you sent to subscribers, I guess that’s because I was only on a beta tester subscription. Are there any instructions as to how I get at my old data?

  4. Sorry to hear it didn’t work out. It seemed like such a good idea.

    Do you intend to do anything with the engine? How hard would it be to adapt it into a check list server for companies looking to standardise work?

  5. Thank you for sharing this. I plan to constantly echo it in my head as I develop my next startup/side project (just reg’d the domain last night).

    It’s funny. Listening to customers sounds so obvious, but actually doing it when it conflicts w/your vision can be very hard.

  6. “You have to work on your startup every single day, even if it’s only for a few minutes a day.”

    I appreciate hearing this one, it’s easy to skip the work if you know you only have 15 minutes, but even a few minutes helps maintain momentum. Whereas, momentum can be quickly killed if you have a busy schedule.

  7. “You have to work on your startup every single day, even if it’s only for a few minutes a day.”

    @Bryan, this one is actually a double edged one. In one side you want to build producitivity momentum (but usually I have the opposite problem, I need to force myself to stop) but on the other side, you don’t want to be continuously into your project because you lose perspective. The best way I have found to get the best of both worlds (productivity + perspective) is by regularly meeting with other entrepreneurs to discuss about challenges we each have. This helps a lot, someone always brings up an idea to you where you think: “how come I didn’t think of that?” This is what lack of perspective causes, you miss important things.

  8. You used the word momentum, which I believe is the single most important concept you should grasp as a startup. Without it you will wither away and flut between ideas but never accomplicing anything.

  9. I think momentum comes by launching early to start getting users and then let the users pull you back to your project.

    Make it easy for them to contact you and give you feedback. Once you will here for the 20th time “Where do I reset my password?” you will feel the pain and act on it.

  10. “hear”, not “here”

  11. Bob Walsh says:

    Aymeric – The market is definitely growing, the problem (more and more non-repeating tasks that take more time to research/define as to do them) is definitely growing. But any app that has more steps between customer and problem solved is on thin ice.

    Adam – where’s the guest post? :) One was solving the wrong problem – concentrated on appearance when going to version 2 instead of asking customers what they wanted.

    Dan – thanks for the heads up re the new server; should have that working today or tomorrow.

    Rob VS – the hard part of the hard part is admitting that your customers in a very specific way (what they will pay for) know a lot more about your product than you do. Either abide by that, or go shopping for a different kind of customer…

    Aymeric/ – a very good suggestion.

    Smart Company/Aymeric – if you pardon the analogy, it’s like cooking soup – constant energy going in (turning the heat on and off repeatedly doesn’t work), if you solve that problem of momentum, there’s the next is boil-over…

    Thanks all, I really appreciate your comments!

  12. Should have made it free. There would have been more people willing to help out/be active if it was free or cheaper.

    • Bob Walsh says:

      Possibly if it were free more people would be willing to participate. But one way or another I need to make a living. Re cheaper: I don’t think price was from the feedback I got a major issue with anyone serious about building their software company and who felt the app was right for them.

  13. Sergey Chernyshev says:

    Sad to say, but my project is still there, even though probably more stagnant. Judging by lack of momentum, it’s probably time to kill it or just start over…

    Thanks for sharing! Hope to buy your next product soon ;)