My startup is failing


15

I'm currently 25 years old. About 2 years ago (at the age of 23), I quit my job and started a company with two friends. I dedicated a lot of time and hard work to it. I used to code 12 - 15 hours daily. 6 days a week. And sometimes on weekends as well.

After 7 months into the business, we still didn't pocket any cash personally. We were surviving on personal savings. Whatever income we made got used up in expenses. Our product (an app) didn't work as expected because we made a few mistakes along the way. Being young and inexperienced, we assumed a few things which didn't work out so well. A couple of months after this, a falling out happened between me and the other 2 partners. I discovered that they were planning to remove me from the company sooner or later since they felt I was the bottleneck.

I quit the company I founded before they could tell me to. I had already lost all say in anything in the company since those two had teamed up. I decided it was best to leave. I was pretty depressed and sad. Apart from the fact that after putting in so much time and hard work in the company, I wasn't appreciated at all, I also felt really hard leaving something that I started with a vision and dream.

Soon after this, I got myself together and started a second business with another friend of mine. Worked hard again for one year. This person is really close to me and we communicate very well.

However currently, the business isn't doing well at all. It's been one year and we are not even break-even. We haven't taken salaries since we started. All my personal savings are used up. My friend has lost hope completely and gone into depression. I'm still a little more stable than him though despite "almost-two" failures. But I cannot do this alone. I have tried to motivate him and myself as well. It's too hard without any income to support us.

I cry myself to sleep everyday. I am completely heart-broken. When I look at other youngsters' successes, I feel very sad I couldn't achieve it... and what if I can never achieve it? It is my dream. And my life's aim.

I don't know if I should quit. I have put my heart and soul into both the companies and suffered two huge blows. I am losing hope in life. I worked for two years without earning a single penny. I am burning out now. My biggest fear in life was that I'll just end up living a normal life like most people.

I don't have the mind-set at all to get into a normal job. I don't even know if I will get one now. I have two empty years in my CV.

Is there any hope? Should I try to revive this business? I want to do it... but I need some expert advice.

I don't know what should I do and how should I do it. I have read a lot of self development books. Maybe that's the only thing that's keeping me somewhat stable.

My parents are not supportive. They want me to get a job and live a normal life. I feel alone and a failure... I still don't want to quit, but I'm burning out and out of money.

We both are confused and going into depression. We even discussed to "lease" the company to someone while still being the owners and get into a job ourselves temporarily to earn some cash.

Any advice will mean a lot to me in this tough time. Thanks a lot guys.

Career Jobs Failure

asked Nov 18 '13 at 06:49
Blank
Sticox
79 points
  • I recommend that people like you (and me) read [The Founder's Dillema](http://www.amazon.com/The-Founders-Dilemmas-Anticipating-Entrepreneurship/dp/0691158304). It discusses a lot of what you mentioned and much more. – Sinelaw 3 years ago
  • Hi @Sticox, I am interested in learning more about your business. There is a possibility that I invest in it or that I literally take it over if it has a potential. Let me know how can I contact you. – User1510230 3 years ago
  • All this text and not a word about what your businesses were/are about? – Mörre 3 years ago
  • a proclivity to become depressed when faced with hardship is not conducive to starting a business. I lived in 6 years of poverty for my startups, and never went where you're describing. You probably need something stable for a while, to galvanize your risk-mind, and retrospect on what you did wrong. – New Alexandria 3 years ago
  • Before completety reading the whole question, I jumped to "add comment" to say that you DO NOT HAVE 2 empty years in the CV. You learned many things you maybe just do not know the exact terms to describe them in a piece of paper. – Whiteletters And Blankspaces 3 years ago
Add Comment

11 Answers


17

Two years without a real paycheck is very difficult financially. Two failed startups is very difficult emotionally.

But the startup bug isn't exactly curable (IMHO). You may never get over it, and you may never be truly satisfied with a "normal" job. Regardless of what happens, I suspect you'll be back some day, sooner or later.

Here are a handful of thoughts, in no particular order:

1. Take a Break, Work for a Startup

First, consider whether it's time to take a break and head back into the "normal" job world. (Perhaps it's not the right time or place to take a job elsewhere, but in your situation, I'd say it is definitely time to consider whether it is.)

You need something to put your financial situation back on a sustainable course. But don't just take any job. Find something that can help you learn what you need to so that when Round #3 for you comes around, you're prepared for it.

Nearly all companies pretend they're a startup and that they're "very agile", but few actually are. So find one that makes good on the promise, and learn everything you can about what works for them and what doesn't.

Learn lessons on someone else's dime, and stash away all of the spare money that you can so that you'll be prepared some time later for the next round.

2. Figure Out What Went Wrong

Two, (perhaps after some time away from it, or perhaps right away, depending on your state of mind) sit down and objectively critique what happened, and why your businesses failed. (Or is failing, if you want to keep pursuing it.) Do your best not to blame others. (Note, I'm not saying its your fault. It's just too easy for people to say, "Well if my cofounders weren't bumbling idiots, then...") Work to answer the question, for both failed startups, the question "Why didn't we build a product that people would pay money for, or how did we fail in getting it to them?"

Perhaps you'll discover that your marketing was essentially non-existent. Perhaps you'll discover that you spent a full year building a product without getting it in front of potential users to see if you were headed in the right direction. Perhaps you'll realize that you were trying to compete in a market that has nearly-impossible-to-overcome network effects that would have taken billions of dollars to compete with. The specific conditions that caused the failures are unique to your situation alone — we can't tell you what happened, but you can. (And hint: the two may have failed for different reasons.)

Failure can be almost as insightful as success, if you can learn the right lessons from it.

3. Find Quick Victories

Third, whether you keep trying to push forward with this or just try again later, it sounds like what you need more than anything is to go for a quick (possibly small) victory. If you can find something small to complete that gives you a feeling of accomplishment, the depression is likely to go away or at least become tolerable.

A string of small successes (even a string of successful failures) can keep your momentum moving forward. Pick one thing every day that is doable in eight hours — the single most useful thing that could move things forward — and focus on doing just that for the day.

Whenever you're finding yourself down or depressed, give yourself permission to work on something that you'll enjoy, or something that will give you a feeling of accomplishment when you're done.

4. Consider the Burnout Factor

Finally, consider whether you're burning yourself out or not. You said you're working 12-15 hours a day, 6 days a week. That's 70-90 hours per week.

I'll admit that this kind of work schedule does seem to work for a handful of people. But if you're a "normal" person, it's worth stating that working more than about 40 hours a week just doesn't work well.

For most people, working 60+ hours per week continually (permanent crunch time) doesn't get much more accomplished than 40 hours per week. You start making stupid mistakes because of fatigue that you wind up having to redo things. Try to limit your work to a smaller time box, then get out and do something else that you enjoy. Allow yourself to come back refreshed.

The sad thing is, people often mistake being busy (and working lots of hours) with being productive. If you time box yourself and prioritize correctly, the stuff that won't get done was probably the stupid stuff anyway.

answered Nov 18 '13 at 07:37
Blank
rbwhitaker
3,455 points
  • Also, don't compare yourself to the "successful youngsters" that the media loves to report on. Someone will always be more successful than you, don't take it personally. – rbwhitaker 3 years ago
  • Yeah, you only hear about the lottery winners not all the losers. – David Silva Smith 3 years ago
  • But be careful about over-emphasing the importance of time spent failing. Al la 37signals' advice: it's much better to spend time learning from success. If you're failing too much, then *stop*. – Dogweather 3 years ago
  • @Dogweather, I agree. Failing is not a good thing, but once it's happened, you should make the most of a bad situation and learn all the lessons you can from it. – rbwhitaker 3 years ago
Add Comment

2

I see generating no (or not enough) revenue as key problem.
I like to keep things simple.

As long as revenue remains low, problems will keep coming. As soon as it takes off, problems will get solved. So I would concentrate on the question:

  • Why is the revenue low?
Which leads to the next questions:

  • Have you identified potential customers and tested your product with them?
  • If yes, do you understand why they are not paying for it?
  • Have you tried to change your product to suit their needs?

Very basic questions but I don't see them covered in the question asked.

answered Nov 19 '13 at 23:18
Blank
Dmitri Zaitsev
181 points

2

This one is tough to answer, but I cannot not try to give it a shot.

The job option

If money is a problem, definitely, get a job. Think of it as temporary. Who knows where that might take you anyway. If that means putting the project aside for six months (or whatever), don't think twice about it. By the sounds of it I think you and your partner need a break.

There's one great thing about your resume that most people don't have: you've been coding for two years almost every day. You've probably also designed screens, workflows, data models, an architecture. You might have implemented some build scripts, test scripts. You've helped design a product. Thought about how to get it out there. All that stuff that big companies have teams of people do.

Compare that to a regular 9-5 job:

  • Sticox works an average of 13.5 hours x 6 days per week = 78 h/week
  • A person working a regular job works 8 hours x 5 days per week = 40 h/week

You've worked about twice the amount in the same time, and likely it's more interesting work too. And I bet that in your "time off" all you think and talk about is your company and ideas for your company.

Even if working for someone else sucks, there is one great thing about it: somebody else makes the decisions for you, which when I've been down has always sounded like a bit of a holiday.

Other tips

Definitely check out things that generally help in these situations. Small wins, etc. Talk to a professional (a shrink). Talk to someone that's been through something similar.

Check out this video, maybe it can help:

http://businessofsoftware.org/2013/11/developers-entrepreneurs-depression-a-wonderful-talk-at-business-of-software-conference/ Do something other than work every day. Watch a shitty comedy. Go to a meetup just to listen and learn something new. Call an old friend. Apparently physical exercise helps a lot (because of the endorphins).

Eating well is supposed to be good (but it may not be very easy).

My experience

I've been through a similar situation. I would "see the light" one day and realise that I've wasted over a year's work on something that obviously nobody wants because it doesn't serve a need. The next day I would "see the light" again and come to the opposite conclusion. It didn't help when I heard of some projects with overnight success, and others that took years to take shape: I couldn't decide when it was time for me to call it quits. And there was always the option to pivot, to go work with a competitor, to work anywhere else... to do nothing. I never cried myself to sleep but for a period I did wake up not wanting to get out of bed.

Why would you not want to take a break from your project? Because your idea is too good to let it go, because someone else is going to beat you to market, and so on.

A thing that helped me relax was when I read that the first to market apparently aren't the ones that succeed in the long term:

http://steveblank.com/2010/10/04/why-pioneers-are-the-ones-with-the-arrows-in-their-backs/ After reading that I could breathe. It served as an excuse to quit panicking.

Why would you "lease" the company out? Is it not possible to hit "pause" while you're away? If you do let someone else take over, doesn't that bring up a whole lot of legal issues that are a pain in the neck to deal with? Can you really let go 100% while others take over? Are you going to be able to find someone to take over with the same level of commitment and returns?

Work is not as important as your health. I know this sounds hollow because we hear it so much, but hey, your business isn't kicking butt right now. If it's really worth it, you can (and will) come back to it. You might even meet some other people along the way who also want to go on that ride and will make it easier.

Also, outside of movies I've never seen an "aha moment" change someone's life. The same way you've gotten to where you are now (slowly, over a period of weeks or months), is the way you're going to get out of it (slowly, over a period of weeks or months).

Finally, why don't you send me an email? Look up my profile here. There's a link there to my site and in the "About us" section of the site is my email. Tell me if these answers have been able to help. I'm not a doctor, I'm not trained in this but maybe we can bounce some ideas back and forth and maybe that might help.

Or let us know which answers you think make the most sense. A conversation is probably more helpful than just one answer from each of us.

Take care.

answered Nov 21 '13 at 08:50
Blank
Ivan Maeder
136 points

1

This is what has worked for me.

  • Life is long. You need to realize this.
  • Mistakes get you closer to your destination. So, keep trying.
  • If you need to take a break and stabilize/replenish yourself physically/mentally/financially, do it! Keep the startup dream on the back-burner till you focus on recovery.
  • Slow and steady wins the race!
answered Nov 20 '13 at 16:07
Blank
Pratik Khadloya
107 points

1

The mistake

I don't know the details but my guess is - based on you working for two years without taking any salary - that you tried to do a "startup" (like those sexy companies you hear about that were sold for a billion dollars to google) without the single thing that make startups viable - lots and lots of other people money.

There are two kinds of companies in the world:

  1. Venture backed startups - this is where you work crazy hours on a grand idea without breaking even for a few years in order to make a big exit and be one of those rich and successful startup millionaires.

    Something between 90% and 99% of all startup fail, this is fine for VCs because they fund a lot of companies with the expectation that one will be sold to Google for a billion dollars and the other will go bankrupt - not so good for the founder that put all his/hers eggs in one basket.

    The important thing is that you only do "a startup" with other people money - the most likely outcome is failure and you absolutely must set things up in a way you are not taking more risk than you can tolerate.

  2. Normal companies - this is where you get to profitability as soon as possible at any cost and build a sustainable business that may never be on the news but will keep you and your family in a comfortable lifestyle forever.

    normal companies that don't act like they are exempt from the normal rules of economics actually have a pretty good chance to succeed, they are not sexy, they will not put you on the cover of magazines but if you find something people are willing to pay for and you grow really slowly you (almost) can't fail.

So what should you do now?

Get a real job for a little while, you are now at a point you have no more money left so you either take investment or a job - since investors are not stupid and are unlikely to invest in a failing company where one of the founders is suffering from depression the only option left is a job.

Take a boring job at a huge company making internal software nobody cares about, don't take a job at a startup who wants you to also work nights and weekends.

Use those nights and weekend to work on your next idea, choose a field where you can start selling something after a maximum of a month of nights and weekends - this will not be a great idea that will take over the world but that's fine, this comes later.

Continue to work on your product nights and weekends to grow it until you can survive only on the income from it, then you quit your day job and grow your product even more.

At some point, you will get to the point you can put your product on "auto-pilot" for a while - this is the point you can start working on something bigger while living off the income from the first idea.

and so on, every few years you get your previous product to a point it can continue without your day-to-day involvement and use the money to start something bigger.

Somewhere between business #3 and #5 you will have the money to go for a big idea that can change the world and make you famous and you will have the resources and expertize to make it successful.

answered Nov 24 '13 at 21:18
Blank
Nir
1,569 points

1

I'm going to throw out some cold hard truth that I see around the business world that I know of. This may not apply to you as those 2 years have passed but will help new people that stumble upon this post:

The thing about the statement "90% of all businesses fail" (or other one liners on those lines) is that it includes a conveniently ignored 'due diligence' phase that the human psyche conveniently likes to not think of: self-reflection on whether your personality is an 'entrepreneur' or a 'wantrepreneur'.

I get that 'we' (as a community or in general, readers of this post) might find us to be 'not a fit for a 9-5 job', but here's what I've noticed: all the successful entrepreneurs I know "personally" (not the guys you hear about on TV or on the news), that have built up small internet businesses that have stable revenue, would be equally able to get a $100k/yr job if they were to go on the market, within under a month - from their technical and execution skills they possess. A lot of people get into doing a business because they can't get a high paying job - so, out of a 'necessity per se' ('because that $50k/yr job is never going to make you real wealth' mentality).

A good filter would be first to prove that one can easily get high paying jobs, and then not take them and get into a business environment. This really lowers the risk, in my opinion and forces you to undergo the conveniently skipped due diligence. I'll bet that if you look at the "90% of all businesses fail" samples, most of these failed business founders probably haven't proven they can instantly get high paying jobs either aka haven't developed a skill that immediately reduces the risk involved in a startup endeavor.

This advice may not apply in some industries but definitely applies in the software industry.. (in my opinion).

answered Nov 27 '13 at 06:56
Blank
Code Monkey
111 points

0

You know what you need the most ??Motivation.....
First of all i am 20 yrs old and i am in a college and i also wanted to start a company like you did.There are many reasons why i want to start a company.You said you don't want to end up like a normal person,but have you thought what you wanna end up like?For me i want to own a Lamborghini.i love how its doors go up and its stylish curves and how many heads it turns.However stupid this may sound,but that is the truth.People may say that ,money is not what they dream of,but they are all big fat liars(well most of them are).Dig in deep why you wanted to start a company,its not just because you didn't want to have a normal job,i bet its more than that.Whatever it is,Make it your motivation.Make it your dream !!
Now its your company right??it's your Dream right?? So how can u depend on others to satisfy your wishes and dreams??It's your dream,its your journey..Do you think i will depend on other's to buy me a lamborghini ?even if they do i won't take it,because I won't enjoy it,because you know why??because i haven't earned it.I know you have gone at a very low point in your life but be prepared for the worst.What's the worst that can happen??You will end up with no money,will have to face your un- supportive parents for a place to live and eat right??obviously they won't kick you out.I know it won't be easy to see their grudging faces and listen to their complains.Don't mind,just take it as a motivation.(and not as a grudge,that "Someday when i become successful i will show you..")?You know then you would have hit rock bottom and the only way to go from their is up.You know, i am in college,and after giving literally 16hrs to coding,i have started enjoying it,i don't study for college at all,and i leave my self with no other option than to start a company.I hate going to the mess to dine,because i have i want to own that lammbo,and i know atleast once in my life i will fail in everything and break down and cry and will think that i never enjoyed my life,but i will console my self and accept it as life.But i would never give up on "my dream".You know every one has dreams,everyone!! how many work upon them??10% .And you know every 1 who

give their 100% and never give up are the ones who succeed.

I hope your partner stays with you even if he doesn't,remember it,it's your dream !!Yours !!
And Always make one thing clear,always partner with those people you rate a little bit higher than yourself,and make sure it is a partnership where you have an advantage(say 60%-40%) because in that way you will keep them interested to be working with you(as 40% is not less) and unknowingly you will always be their boss.

answered Nov 18 '13 at 08:12
Blank

0

At least you have some experience. I think you should spend many years carefully thinking about your business model. But it seems you got a new business model so quickly and it seems like your business is the same as many others'. There are no special features so therefore it's going to be too hard to compete.

answered Nov 19 '13 at 10:59
Blank
Tiam
6 points

0

You're in good company!

Entrepreneurship is hard, no question about it. Don't neglect to congratulate yourself on the serious courage it took to get this far already.

And life is tough, no question about that one either. The real question is: when the universe sends you unsavory signs, how do you want to CHOOSE to respond? One option — the path of least resistance — is despair. You certainly wouldn't be the first to go down that route, and should feel no shame if you do. You're only human, after all.

Another Option

Or, smile right back at the universe, and stay grounded in the middle of the hurricane. This demands deep confidence in yourself and in the direction you want to go in. As Ankit emphasized, remember your motivations!

Wise centenarian Charlotte Selver teaches to treat "every moment as a moment of learning" (hat-tip to the great jazz musician Alexander Perry ). This means: what can you learn from what's happening to me right now? Is there anything of value to take away from all of this shit I'm buried in?

Make Lemons into Lemonade

If you'd like to try something more 'healing' than the business lifestyle, while still creating value for yourself and the world: have you considered writing? Your question demonstrates strong writing skills and no difficulty expressing yourself clearly. I think you'd be great at it.

You must have loads of fascinating stories from your last two years of adventure, and there are uncountable number of entrepreneurs, and future-entrepreneurs that would love to learn more about your experience and the insights you've gained. As hard as it may seem from your perspective, you are in a uniquely opportune position due to the hard work you've put in over the past two years. Art is often choosing to take the pain you're personally experiencing, and transforming it into a gift for the world.

answered Nov 21 '13 at 07:36
Blank
David E
51 points
  • If you are interested in writing, but don't have a platform set up yet, https://medium.com/ is quick to set up and use, and rather trendy with the entrepreneurial crowd these days. – David E 3 years ago
Add Comment

0

I have the same feeling about the "normal" world, but I think getting a job might be a good idea for the time being. I think with the mindset that you have of trying and trying again, you will go far. But I think you should fill your coffers up before you continue and also think about how to achieve your aims.

It takes bravery to try hard like that, good luck!

answered Nov 21 '13 at 20:30
Blank
Mnky
1 point

0

I totally can relate to your distaste with working in a "normal" job for a company. I don't think I could do it. But your situation is quite serious, especially if you are spiraling into depression. If you are unwell, you most certainly can't develop your dream startup.

So my suggestion is: for your health and future, take a break and get a job. Getting a job offers the following benefits: regular work hours, guaranteed income, stability. It also offers you more experience working for a company. In my opinion, that type of experience is critical for being able to build a sustainable company of your own. If you get a job that pays relatively well, you can maybe start saving, and these savings can be used as an investment in your next startup.

As for job options, you've got two main directions:

  1. A boring company, like Nir said above. He's right about the advantages of that.
  2. An exciting startup. You may do better at a startup, since many value people with lots of programming experience (which you have - you think you have a blank CV, but you don't!), and an entrepreneurial spirit (which you definitely have - you've kept going long past when most people would have quit). Think carefully about which type of job you think would work best for you, and then go for it.

Remember: your health is the most important thing. If you don't have your health, you can't possibly achieve your dreams. So regroup, recuperate, breathe deeply, and then you can get up and go for round three!

P.S. Don't feel like a failure just because your two attempts at a startup failed. Here's a great quote that I recently found explaining why:

“Nine out of ten businesses fail? so I came up with a foolproof plan — create ten businesses.”— Robert Kiyosaki

answered Nov 27 '13 at 01:07
Blank
Miriam Schwab
121 points

Your Answer

  • Bold
  • Italic
  • • Bullets
  • 1. Numbers
  • Quote
Not the answer you're looking for? Ask your own question or browse other questions in these topics:

Career Jobs Failure