July 2, 2019

Are you ending a project or startup? Why?

Valentijn van den Hout @vvdhout

Hi friends,

Just curious to who here is wrapping up a project they have been working on and why they have chosen to stop.

Celebrating our milestones is great but sharing what has not worked out can be very suiting as well. I have myself had to make such hard decisions before and reflecting on it with others was always informative.

Looking forward to hearing your story 🙏

  1. 4

    I think the smartest move is knowing when to stop. It's also the hardest as there's really no one to force you to do it in most instances. I've learned that you need to keep a boundary between what your emotions and what the data tells you.

    Here are 2 examples from myself:

    1. I launched a 1 gallon car washing device - crowdfunding test didn't gather sufficient orders and the factories couldn't figure out how to economically manufacture it. Clear enough to stop.

    2. I launched a crypto deal site with a cofounder- traction was good. One day we received a letter from financial regulators telling us to stop. Then I was on a call with about 10 of their lawyers thinking is this a good idea? Reality was it would require substantial legal fees to even begin to fight it - didn't really want to enrich lawyers so that was enough evidence for us to stop.

    The recovery part I think is the hardest - you wonder if you should have done something different. But you can't second guess yourself and while it takes time to recover you will come up with some new idea to pursue even if doesn't seem like it.

    For myself I went back to what I love camping and was volunteering with the Boy Scouts. I began to think about all the expensive camping gear and wanted to track and compare product warranties - couldn't find any site that did that so I'm working on making a site that compares product warranties - kinda like yelp for warranties focused on camping gear.

    I hope this helps you on your journey :)

    1. 1

      Sweet! Thanks for sharing John.

      Always neat to be working on a problem you yourself actually experience. Makes things so much easier (still hard, of course, haha).

      You want to keep working on your own projects or are you considering maybe joining a startup or something?

      1. 1

        Right now I'm working on my own projects but always open to working with others :) How about yourself?

  2. 2

    @jwd2a and I did at the beginning of the year. The tl;dr is that we struggled to get any traction, only had a single paying customer at the time and just couldn't seem to crack the code to move things forward (even with a healthy amount of user conversations).

    I think being smart enough to realize when shit's not working is one of the best traits you can have going into starting a business. I still believe that a healthy level of optimism is important with a startup, but there's no reason to dig your heels in on thinking you're right and your customers / market is what's wrong.

    1. 1

      Hi Josh,

      Thanks for sharing.

      A familiar story for sure. I know the feeling of talking to customers and not really getting any actionable points out of it. It is always hard to say for sure but I would agree with you that your probably did right. Definitely worth trying your hardest, but time is such a valuable asset that at some point it's time to cut your losses.

      What are your next steps now?

      1. 1

        Fortunate for us, we have more than just the one line in the water, so we're both pursuing some other stuff while keeping active with consulting (@jwd2a) and a day job (myself).

        Even more fortunate is that the experience has really helped us figure out how we should be spending that limited resource of our time and has given us a lot of the right habits and behaviors to succeed on future endeavors.

        1. 2

          Sweet! Sounds like a great approach indeed.

          Thanks for sharing again, and all the best on whatever endeavor you are pursuing 🙏

  3. 1

    Launched. Couldn't close customers. Couldn't differentiate. B2B too competitive. Not sure what I was thinking. Now back to drawing board, hopefully applying the lessons I've learned. It sucks to abandon ideas, but it had to be done

    1. 1

      Good on you that you were managed to realize these things and cut your losses. Super hard to do. Anything concrete you are working on yourself, or are you considering joining a team or startup?

      1. 1

        It wasn't easy to move on, but I did an objective assessment:

        1. The landscape was too competitive, with entrenched incumbents who're not huge corporations but funded, nimble startups. Plus many more bootstrapped solutions trying to get a slice of the pie. I couldn't differentiate, I couldn't compete.

        2. The sales cycle was too long (and it's typical for this market). Can't believe I underestimated this. Even if I could close one or two, my burn wouldn't last that long.

        3. My customers weren't accessible. They're busy, they don't spend time online, they don't hang out in online communities (not most of them anyway), and the typical way to reach them has always been outside sales, which I don't have the resources for.

        4. Echoing @joshtronic above, I've been talking a lot with users, yet nothing actionable towards how I can improve the product to something they'd be willing to pay for (over paying my competitors).

        So now I'm back to the drawing board ("search mode," as I'd call it), but I'm learning from my mistakes. I'm starting to realize B2B isn't an accessible market for me, I need to start wayyy downstream. Not B2C, but B2A (what Rob Walling calls business-to-aspirational, e.g. basically people wanting to start a business or solopreneurs/very-small businesses).

        These people are always online, it's easier get customers at $20-30/mo instead of $200-300/mo (shorter sales cycle), it keeps morale high to see sales trickle in, and these customers are accessible (online forums, Reddit, Warrior Forums, etc.). So my next idea is probably something for the ecommerce market. Not sure yet.

        I'll probably get a job again instead of burning my savings while I validate my idea, code the MVP, and start signing up my first users.

        1. 1

          Completely understand. What job are you considering taking?

  4. 1

    A few months ago I sold my share in a WordPress plugin business for low five figures. I've also been sunsetting some other small side projects and working to simplify my life for a few years. They were working fine and growing but it was time to change things.

    I got pretty burned out of the entrepreneurial life. I also had my first child and have decided I'm not going to be the person who regrets working too much and missing out on the good years with them. So I got a job I love at a small software company where I still feel in control and autonomous.

    I'm kind of considering this chapter in my life a sabbatical from my own projects. It's actually been a real sacrifice because I love building new things, growing new businesses, and running the race. I see opportunities all around which are hard to pass on. But I've decided this is what my family and I need, at least for a little while.

    1. 1

      Hi Kyle.

      Thanks for the reply. Totally understanding your choice. Priorities.

      Do you think you are going to be working on your own projects later on again, or are you considering joining a startup or company at that time?

      1. 1

        Yeah, spot on question. I'm not one for trying to predict the future because I'm never even close to right, but I do have a guess. I think a time will come again when I want to work on my own projects. However, I've been delighted to find that when I'm working for a small, innovative company, and I am empowered to make decisions and act, it actually feels like it is my project. So who knows? Maybe I'll always be happy in the small startup scene?

        1. 1

          That's great that you feel that way. Even if it is for now. You mentioned you're now working at a small software company. What type of work do you do there?

          1. 1

            Marketing, biz dev, and some admin stuff are my current focuses.

            1. 1

              Sweet. No product stuff?

              1. 1

                Interesting question. I wouldn't say no product stuff. We definitely try to be very marketing lead so my research does influence product direction.

                1. 1

                  Neat. I wast just asking because I can imagine as a maker or indie-hacker you'd probably still want to be involved in building products in some form or another. I notice this for myself. Even though I might feel like moving away from solo-founding and hacking stuff together, I'd like to work on product in a startup or something. Have you ever considered transitioning to a product manager type of role or something?

                  1. 1

                    Yeah, absolutely!!

                  2. 1

                    I think you're really identifying the biggest issue for me. If I end up stepping too far away from the product, there's a greater chance that I'll be drawn to a side project which allows me to participate in creating something.

                    1. 1

                      :D yeah I find it super interesting because I feel the same way. Hoping myself to some day work towards a product manager role at a startup. Being a maker lays down the perfect foundation I believe, but still missing more concrete PM skills. Actually currently trying to create something to tackle this. Would it be okay for me to connect with you via mail or something?