AMAs May 4, 2020

I'm Dario and I failed more times than I can count

Dario @dariot

Hey guys. Let's do this, let's try AMA with unsuccessful founder. I am founder of unsuccessful projects and startups. I've failed so many times so I stopped counting.

I've been trying for at least 10 years with different projects and startups, short term, long term, English based, Croatian based. I failed each time, none of my projects succeeded but I keep trying.

I'm thinking of taking a break for a while. I feel like more I try more I'm going downhill.

  1. 13

    Hi Dario, not a question but I still wanted to share that this sounds a lot like my own experience. Been building web products for over 15 years. Many many fails, and a few successful projects. Don't give up, keep building.

    Looking back I have learned the following and now have this written in a whiteboard where I see it constantly:

    1.- Focus on the product.
    2.- Don't follow technology. Meaning if there is a new shiny framework, you don't have to jump on it. Use something solid that you know well.
    3.- Beware of feature creep.
    4.- Build something that people want, solve real problems.
    5.- Reduce complexity.

    Have a new idea? Create a mockup front-page for it, let people sign up for a Beta. Measure user interest. Focus on the design before you write any code. Do this with a few ideas, then build the one that generated the most interests. No sign-ups for a Beta? Dont build it.

    1. 2

      Definitely, I stopped coding and I started testing people more. Ok sometimes I need to do some coding just to get some minor features.

      But the worst of all is marketing and spreading the word. How do you handle that?

      1. 6

        One word: sales. It's a popular myth of having "product + marketing" which is extremely dangerous and propagated through communities very fast.

        If you put marketing before sales - it's like reverting cause and effect. It's a wrong flow direction. First you need to speak with people, sell them your product or try to sell, learn from them, call them 1000 times to get the right message (sales) => only then you can replicate the right message (marketing).

        Go other way around and will replicate what you think they want (wrong) and not what they really want (right).

        Marketing is easy to start with because all ideas are already in your head. Sales is hard because it's communication and full of intricacies and nobody know how to do. Just check how many courses on marketing vs courses on sales out there. Plus sales is considered "snake oil men is trying to scam me" which is not sales but scamming got confused with sales throughout history.

        Sales, my friends. Sales is the key.

      2. 0

        If you are solving a real problem and your solution is good, then marketing and spreading the word is not much of an issue. The sign-up for a beta list that you generate should provide enough traction to get things going. If you get some cash flow then you can do PPC, or just hire the right people to take care of it. So focus on the product, ideas are cheap for a reason. You need to come up with one that is valuable, get proof from the market that there is interest in it beyond your intuition. Only then build it.

        1. 6

          Sorry but I strongly disagree and I think this is a bad advice.

          Yes you have to solve real problems. But no, marketing and spreading the word IS the biggest issue. This is the biggest misconception that every developer/beginner entrepreneur does, especially indie hackers here, that if you build it, they will come. This site is filled with posts people building products and services for months and years and then closing it down, because 100 people from their "I wanna beta test your product" don't convert to revenue.

          And I think your comment about "beta list is enough to provide enough traction to get things going" just fuels this misconception.

          No they will not come. You can have the best product, solving the biggest problem in the world, but no one will come and use your product. Your beta list will not work. Your hacked together landing page with a list of "I wanna try your product" emails will not work.

          Just last week there was a post on Hacker News about a SaaS post-mortem, a person killed their startup after 3 weeks because they didn't get traction and got their pricing wrong. The comments there are very valuable for every indie hacker here to read.

          The TLDR from that discussion is that running a startup for 3 weeks is a joke. You need to grind, learn marketing, learn sales, plan your inbound & outbound marketing strategies, approach people, sell, speak with customers, learn, repeat.

          You need to run your SaaS for 12-24 months, the discussion there is filled with examples people getting tractions and $10k/mo revenues after their first year. Which SaaStr has a great article about.

          Yes there are outliers, but that's not how you do business, especially if you want to repeat your success. Don't try your luck. Product is nothing without marketing and sales. And if you're a solo developer/entrepreneur, you'll have to get out of your comfort zone and learn.

          1. 2

            I respectfully disagree with you; Great product ideas gain traction. I feel like you are making things extremely complicated trying to prove how a so so idea can be successful if you "grind, learn marketing, learn sales, plan your inbound & outbound marketing strategies, approach people, sell, speak with customers, learn, repeat. ... You need to run your SaaS for 12-24 months"

            I'm not saying that all the marketing strategies you mentioned are bad, but the simple thing here is that great ideas make money and do so quickly. And that there are simple strategies to determine what a good idea is.

            Yes, some projects can take years to get going, most of these long shots die. Yet IndieHacker projects are the best example of how simple lean ideas make money quickly and become amazing products. Many with no code and a few weeks of work!

          2. 2

            is very true, even in free open source "they won't come" if you don't do marketing no matter how good the software is, simply because they won't know.

        2. 1

          That's nice if you build something that solves a problem and doesn't exist. There is always a gray area, problem exists and solution exists but your solution is different, there isn't a problem but you are just making something for fun (e.g. TikTok didn't solve any realistic problem to be honest, teenagers just wanted to do stupid things)

          1. 1

            True, yet keep in mind your risk increases drastically. Still, you can show your idea with a landing page and see how users react.

  2. 3

    Hey Dario,

    I am generally better at marketing so I do understand that it can be pretty tricky breaking into markets!

    Do you think maybe the issue was that you went into industries that were already saturated?

    Did you consider industries that were not very mainstream ? Because I have had some success in areas I did not expect. And how did you go about creating your ideal customer profiles?

    What was the longest duration of all the start-ups you had?

    Also, it is always a good idea to take a step back and reflect on the lessons learnt and just chill for a bit. I feel like sometimes we do not stop and really assess situations (well we think we do). Meanwhile two great books I d recommend that helped me a lot. Lean Start-up by Eric Ries. For understanding a bit of marketing strategy Blue Ocean Strategy. This is if you have not already read these.

    1. 1

      I tried both markets. Non-saturated one was bad, because simply there wasn't need for my service that's why it was non-saturated. That's why my startup failed, it was the longest one I worked on, around 3 years.

      Saturated markets are better, there is a need for specific service but the million dollar question is how to stand out in a crowd.

      Just to give an example. I worked for one startup, news app, they had their own writers who wrote business news. Nobody used the app, it had like few thousands visitors from all over the world. Startup is still alive, it doesn't generate revenue, people still don't use it but someone is pushing it, someone is giving money to them for some weird reasons.

      So that startup is still going on because they get financial injection all the time, I couldn't push my projects because there wasn't financial injection.

      So lack of money, no marketing, living in a wrong country, having nobody to jump start you leads to failing every time.

  3. 3

    Hello Dario, I'm Pablo, and I have also failed more times than I can count, over more than a decade of trying. High five! :)

    1. 1

      Former Google engineer :O Wow, nice. Also from London.
      How come, it seems like you were in a good position, living in London, working for Google...

      1. 3

        First startup, Hear a Blog, needed to burn $10k a month to get to profitability and we didn't have it nor we knew how to raise it. We where seedcamp finalists and investors overwhelmingly told us that podcasts were going nowhere and we needed to be on internet radio.

        My second startup, Watu, was going really well until my CEO/business partner had a personal crisis and had to quit and take care of that. It was in an space that I wasn't familiar with, so, I couldn't do sales and marketing. The company doubled in size with me as CEO, but it never took off.

        My third startup, Dashman, I just couldn't sell it. I still run into people that tell me they need that product and that hurts. It's a strange concept and when I explain it to people most misunderstood it and discarded it on the misunderstanding and when I tried to elaborate, I came off as defensive, which doesn't help selling.

        Not sure how much living in London helps. I've spent years networking in the city and I've made more meaningful contacts doing it online in the past 2 months than in those years. Having Google in my CV did open some doors, but I'm still struggling to find co-founders (that I want to work with).

        1. 1

          And look at podcasts now...

          I feel you, similar things happened to me. I wish I could learn from you but I experienced all of that. At least it's nice to hear that I'm not alone.

          "It's a strange concept and when I explain it to people most misunderstood it and discarded it on the misunderstanding and when I tried to elaborate, I came off as defensive"
          It happened to me aswell. Some things are just confusing.

          1. 2

            Reading Non-violent Communication helped me overcome a bit of that, but I still have a lot of work to do. The problem with Dashman is that I was trying to create a new category of product and when you do that you have to explain the category and then your product. When someone tells you it's hard... believe them.

  4. 2

    You are definitely not alone. I have similar story but still trying.

  5. 2

    Have you done postmortems? I would be interested in reading them!

    I think they can teach you a lot about what went wrong. Do you have any idea of what went wrong in all of them?

    1. 1

      I did write some articles on Medium about lessons I learned along the way by working on my first startup and in another startup as developer.

      Here is my Medium https://medium.com/@dariot
      I'll definitely write more

      Marketing went wrong and not having the money to market the product also being in the wrong place. I remember how we created an app very similar to TikTok, just around time when TikTok was merged with Musically, but they had money. I didn't copy the app because TikTok didn't exist at the time, but concept was similar

      1. 2

        I would encourage you to take a rest if you feel that that's what you need. Don't judge yourself.

        To stop shipping is good as well to gain awareness and be mindful. This can help you to perceive better what happens in your environment and open your eyes no new ideas!

        I definitely take a look into the medium stuff

        1. 1

          I'm taking a break for sure :D

  6. 2

    The strongest factor is belief Dario. A famous entrepreneur in The Netherlands says that failure is repeating the wrong strategy over and over again. What do you think is one thing you did for every project and did not work out?

    1. 1

      Did Albert Einstein said "Insanity Is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting Different Results"? I feel like I'm doing the same, trying over and over again and expecting different results

      To answer your question "What do you think is one thing you did for every project and did not work out?": I cared about it.
      Almost everytime I did not care about anything in life it went just fine, even more than fine

      1. 1

        My 2 cents. Find someone in your network who is an entrepreneur and grab a coffee or go for dinner. Prepare good questions for the person and ask everything. Start a new project and once you are working on it for a month or two, do it again.

        1. 1

          I did that already, I even talked to CEO of one of the most successful Croatian startups. He had similar project to mine. His path was different and he made it.

          He also made it to the USA and that's where he skyrocketed.

  7. 2

    You're definitely not alone. My big problem has been commitment for quite some time, but with my new product, I have managed to keep myself motivated.

    Keep believing, don't give up! @steban's suggestions are the ones I agree most with in this thread.

    1. 1

      So you went through same feelings and situations?

      1. 3

        Yes. Exactly what you're describing. And it's not easy when you constantly hear about other people's successes. I'm not jealous, it just hits a hard spot on my soul 😜

        1. 1

          I understand, no jealousy just frustration. Maybe because people don't talk much about failure as much as they talk about success

      2. 1

        Oh, and I forgot to mention. If you ever need someone to talk to over Skype or Discord, let's have a chat there!

  8. 2

    Hey @dariot - What products did you try launching?

    1. 1

      I tried various: dating, adult dating, social networks, business tools websites, short term projects (you build something, sell fixed amount of that product and move on), crypto projects, piggybacking on existing networks like IG and TikTok...

      1. 1

        Pop me a DM - let me see if I can help you

        1. 2

          How do I even send a DM here?

          1. 2

            don't know about DMs, but some people have an email associated with their profiles

            click a profile name

            look for the envelope

  9. 2

    Do you think you will succeed next time? :)

    1. 3

      Judging by the experience so far, probably not. It should be something really different and luck should struck me like a lightning.

  10. 2

    Hi @dariot, Why do you think you failed soooooo many times?

    1. 1

      Hey, thanks for the one and only question :D

      My guess is because I live in a small country, market is small and it's hard to get into US market.

      Some projects were really good and interesting, I gave my best, worked with partners, alone, for few months, for few years... Nothing helped

      1. 1

        Hmmm, interesting view.

        What sort of businesses did you try to set-up?

        What country do you live in?

        1. 1

          I live in Croatia. I tried various: dating, adult dating, social networks, business tools websites, short term projects (you build something, sell fixed amount of that product and move on), crypto projects...

          1. 1

            Hi @dariot, do you have an email I can reach you on, would love to chat more.

            Thanks

            1. 1

              I do, reach me on dariotrbovic (at) yahoo.com

          2. 1

            Those are also mostly insanely tough markets with lots of competition. I admire you for trying that out!

  11. 1

    What role do you usually take? If you were to start another startup next week, with 2-3 people, what infrastructure would you set up day one? (One on Ones, end of days, KPI's, monthly goals, stuff like that, what have you found to work)

    1. 1

      I was everything: developer, marketer, organizer, salesman...

      I haven't found anything that works to be honest. What I found to work the best is to work with myself, I'm more focused then, losing energy less, no need to wait for someone else to do the job that usually takes me a day and so on

  12. 1

    You've said in a previous answer that you feel like your chances at success are slim. What drive/motivation has kept you going through all of these projects?

    1. 2

      Hope. Freaking hope, it always dies last. I always hope to succeed. But also rage and fear, fear from living only like a developer for the rest of my life, going to pension and die without doing anything significant, fear for my existence, rage towards country, system, unfairness that's happening... All of those "negative" emotions

      1. 2

        your value has nothing to do with your material accomplishments. "only a developer" can actually be a great thing. Just a matter of perspective.

  13. 1

    Hey Dario, have you tried starting a lifestyle business instead of a startup? You don't need to create the next big thing to be successful...

    1. 1

      Hmm what's lifestyle business? Sounds interesting

      1. 1

        Instead of trying to create the next big thing that will make you billionaire, maybe focus on smaller, easier project?

  14. 1

    Hi, Dario, could you shortly tell about the most successful project from all your fails? Why do you think it was the closest to success?

    1. 1

      It's very hard question. The closest one was when I won a competition with it. I got media coverage. So people were interested for a bit, but my real audience wasn't and that tricked me.

      I thought things were start rolling but actually they weren't, my core audience didn't care about that.

      Media attention is very good but depends on type of audience you are targeting.

      1. 1

        Ok fine, so you knew what your target audience was. Did you find out what were exact reasons why our potential customers didn't care?

        1. 1

          Yep, they were older generation, not caring about software and market was dying out. I found the exact reason why that particular on failed. It took me like 2 years to realize that.

  15. 1

    Hi @dariot, how would you fail two of my ideas?

    • Newsletter/community for bike commuters?
    • Newsletter to match over 35s tech professionals with jobs in age-friendly companies?

    Ps: have also failed at least 3 times.....

    1. 1

      I'm sorry, I don't understand. You are asking me how would I rate your ideas?

      1. 1

        I think his question means what he should avoid doing.

        1. 1

          Yes, exactly! @dariot I’m trying to do the opposite of what normally happens, when people ask for advice how to be successful.

          1. 1

            So you are working with newsletters?

            1. 1

              I'm trying to.....the main one about ageism in tech

  16. 1

    What are the common obstacles for founder coming from Croatia when trying to offer something to the world?

    1. 1

      Let's say you are somewhere from EU, how do you look at Turkmenistan? Probably as some 3rd world country, different mindset, different culture, language... You must have some really revolutionary product to get noticed. Otherwise you'll probably be just another guy from another foreign country trying to build something.

      Maybe I'm wrong. Can you name some foreign startups who made it beyond borders of their own countries? Exclude English speaking countries. You probably can name few of them of course, but only few, Spotify, Viber...

      How do you look at the UK? Probably as rich, prosperous country, similar to the USA. Native speakers, London being one of the biggest tech/startup cities in the world. Word spreads easily between UK and US.

      Those are bigger countries, bigger market, open minded people, people with more money willing to buy or try something.

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    This comment was deleted 6 months ago.

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