Analyzing Another Failure

Last week, in almost a blink of an eye, my startup/app company  TopWaiter decided to shut it down.  It was just about thirteen months since we tried to build a new app for waiters.  We had research, we had surveys, and we had a strong team.  Unfortunately, thirteen months later that added up to not much.  A lot of initial assumptions were wrong and we ended up in the same ol’ situation of needing to build a network.  So instead of beating our heads against the wall for another year, we just shut it down.  A second app shutdown in a little more than a year.  I felt immensely relieved when it was over and I’ve already moved on to another job.

Since I’ve never built a successful app, I don’t know that I could tell you what to do, but I think I can tell you what not to do when building apps:

  1. Don’t iterate your idea: I think you can iterate process, I think you can iterate ideas, but I’m don’t really think you can iterate your idea.  Pivot, sure.  Iterate, no.   It takes the focus off of trying to make the best representation of your original idea, it makes it hard to ever know what’s working, and I think you always end up going in circles.  Sometimes your app ends up so far from where you started you don’t recognize it, and the idea that may have gotten you excited isn’t even being realized.
  2. Don’t rely on network effects:   if your app requires a large network of other users to be useful, forget it.  It’s just too hard these days to build something that requires everyone online to be using it before your app gets interesting.  Your app or service should be useful even if no one else in the world is using it.
  3. Don’t wait until the end to figure out how to make money:  This didn’t affect us so much, because we never got to the “end”, but it would have.
  4. Don’t try to the the Uber of X:  Not my thoughts, but this article is perfect:  Fact is, there are few industries like the one that Uber took on.  Actually, there may not be another industry where everything is so perfectly lined up.  TopWaiter was an Uber of X sort of app, but we didn’t end up picking an industry where we could make a fundamental change to the process like Uber did.

It’s hard to say if I would ever try to work on another app, since I’ve spent the last four years failing.  Perhaps my place should just be solving the technical problems and not try to be a product person.  I wasn’t really good at it and I don’t think I have enough understanding of people to build apps for them.  The two personal projects I’m working on now (The Lumberjack & PostPunch) are not big ideas, but they solve problems I come across all the time.  They’re for me, though I can imagine other people will find them useful as well.  I could build those kind of apps maybe, but I don’t think I want to be involved in trying to develop a full fledge app/service again.  Not for a little while, anyway.

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