Lessons Learned

December 08, 2022

Well, glad to be out of the train wreck that is now ▋▋▋▋▋▋▋▋▋▋▋ (company name redacted to protect fragile egos). I learned a lot from the experience, and I’m writing it down while it’s all still fresh in my head. There are lessons to be learned.

The backdrop: a few years ago, one of the other parents at my sons’ school approached me with an idea for a new business. She had met an expert academic in giftedness and learning differences, and they were keen to turn it into a web app.

How far did it get?

It was about to launch. I’d been waiting for the final report content. I received it and was in the process of completing the app. It was two weeks from our first product launch.

That was about almost four months ago.

Then the shit hit the fan.

The Problems As I See Them

Not knowing people’s competencies

With a small startup like this, everyone on the team should build the company’s capabilities.

There should be no place for someone with no experience in business, copy, marketing, tech, design, or education. Being nice just isn’t enough.

Know who is involved, and have clear responsibilities. Never assume you will work it out as you go.

Competing idea: Funded V Bootstrapped

Some of the team wanted this to be a funded start-up. I never thought it was a good prospect for funding and wanted to bootstrap.

The pro-finding side wanted to target schools and education departments as the first customers – B2E (business to enterprise). I pushed for targeting parents and small independent schools to start – B2C (business to consumer).

I’ve worked for years in B2E EdTech. Getting into the student mental health space requires levels of administration in the product, complex hosting necessitating a DevOps team, and numerous long reviews of proposed system architecture. We didn’t have the time or budget for any of that.

I wanted to get the product out there and see if it was viable to consumers first. We tried to do both:

  • They tried to get funding and market to schools and governments.
  • I aimed to develop the product for parents.
  • We tried to cater to both markets with the site.

Have a single agreed-upon audience or you cater to noone.

Competing idea: Iterating V finalizing a product before launch

I was keen on getting a product out early and iterating, and would have launched it two years ago. But others wanted everything final before launch. I should have persuaded them to launch early and iterate. I failed.

The problem here is our backgrounds. I’m used to working fast, getting things done, learning from mistakes, and iterating. They came from fields where everything was triple-checked before moving forward. They are incompatible ways of going forwards.

Decide how to move forward before starting.

Warning signs I missed

There were a few things I let slide too easily. Mainly because I really wanted to see the product get out there. It would have made the world a bit better.

  • Starting with a trademark. As I was keen on bootstrapping this, I should have bailed when one team member spent thousands of dollars upfront trademarking the company name. And not in the USA but in Australia??? It was a sign of things to come.

  • Paying too little attention to spending. While I was being a tight arse, watching every penny, there was a lot of money spent on things I didn’t even hear about until the company was in a financial crunch. I didn’t lose money, but was left with no choice but to take a cheap buyout.

  • People ignoring warnings. I would point out risks and consequences and believe they were understood. A team member with no experience in the field continually ignore the warnings, and was shocked at the consequences. I should have triple-checked clear understanding.

  • Outsourcing core business aspects. Like website copy. We understood the product and space best. Outsource later, but become the experts first.

So what’s next for ▋▋▋▋▋▋▋▋▋▋▋?

¯\(ツ)

I’ve deleted my email account, everything else was handed over to the company a few months ago, and I got a few grand.

At that time it became clear that one individual pushed hard to pursue B2B, with no infrastructure in place for B2B, and was more persuasive than me. I saw B2B as a waste of energy at that point, so I stepped out of the way.

A few months later they still had no product launched and had run out of money. The ongoing burn rate was crazy for a self-funded company and is being spent poorly. Everyone except one person took a low-priced buyout rather than end up in debt.

I think the only chance forward for ▋▋▋▋▋▋▋▋▋▋▋ is finding a generous benefactor with a Rolodex full of business contacts to get things in order. If nothing changes dramatically, it will probably keep thrashing about aimlessly until the last person involved runs out of money.

Maybe then I’ll be able to buy back the IP and build it focused as a bootstrapped B2C product. That could be fun.

And next time I’ll have more warning signs to keep in mind.


Profile picture

Written by Adrian Gray making games in Sydney. Find him on Mastodon or Twitter.