You brought it to life, you watched it grow. You thought it was gonna be a world-beater. But it won’t…
So now what?
We lived this – or, more accurately, Dave from Area 224 lived this – back in the middle part of the past decade, running a Web 2.0 for college admissions portal called U Sphere. We had barked up every conceivable tree, had partnerships and relationships and signed Letters of Agreement. We had students using the portal, we had customers paying us – but we knew it wasn’t going to be the Next Big Thing.
IF you’re at that point, where you just know it ain’t gonna make it, here’s some advice.
1. Gut Trumps Everything.
Smokey The Bear Says: “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires.”
Dave Says: “Only You Can Shut It Down.”
On the surface, our case was pretty simple: we started a business, built a product, got customers, and were looking for the right dance partners. We found them! We pursued these chaps, courted each other, and had the agreement in principle that said we’d run their US Operations in exchange for a piece of a larger pie.
Presented at face value, it sounds pretty awesome, right? I mean, we had brokered our little startup into becoming the crown jewel of a multi-million-dollar, multi-national enterprise.
Dave’s Gut: This is a bad idea.
A dangerous combination of arrogance, hubris, positioning, valuation and international intrigue (clandestine meetings, weird stuff at customs, etc.) doomed this deal from the start. So, when it fizzled, it wasn’t a bad thing – even if it meant the company’s wounds couldn’t be healed.
2. Get the Right Advice.
One awesome thing about building a startup is this: meeting people who are wicked smart and for whom ALMOST every idea turns to gold.
Meeting one of these folks and then getting the chance to sorta kinda consider them a mentor was phenomenal. Getting the chance to call them up and spend 10 minutes walking through what was going on was priceless.
AND the one question they asked that stuck with us?
“What’s your gut telling you?”
Another thing about advice: don’t ask someone too close to you, as they’ll tell you what you want to hear. Don’t ask someone for whom emotion trumps logic: they’ll tell you to keep going, even when you know you really shouldn’t. You want the kind of mentor who will say things like “do you really wanna do this?” And it’s ideal to find someone who has been on both sides of the equation – the ones who know when it makes sense to retool and when it’s better to cut losses and move on.
There’s also the flipside here…
3. Get the WRONG Advice.
True Story: We have a Bizarro Mentor. Every one of this person’s ideas has been an abysmal failure; and every time we say “hey, we should launch something that does a, b and c” we wait for their advice. “You should totally quit your job and do that!” We translate that through the Bizarro Filter and discover that it is a piss-poor idea.
Make sure that person has a glass half-empty philosophy. And that it’s someone who is free to advise you on just about everything to do with a startup but has never worked for one before.
Find out who your Bizarro Mentor is – you have one, you just haven’t identified them yet. Find them, ask them.
4. Start Working on Something Else NOW.
Here’s hubris again: it WILL work, believe in your dreams, don’t give up, you’re gonna make millions.
At the second reality starts to set in, you need a Plan B. And Plan C and Plan D won’t hurt either.
If that Plan B is finding a real job, great. (We tried that back in the day.) Plan C, though, made more sense – leveraging our know-how of this social networking universe (since ours WAS a social network, after all) led us to launch Area 224.
5. Don’t Assign Blame, Even to Yourself.
After ripping the band-aid off, seeing the old business in the rearview has been liberating. Yeah, I was ultimately responsible for the demise of the business – and, while I learned from it, I don’t blame myself one bit.
Pointing fingers all around the universe doesn’t do anyone any good either. Woulda, shoulda, coulda won’t help.