Yes, hindsight is a wonderful thing. You can look back and see everything you did wrong, the things you did right, and everything that you would have changed. When I look back at my experience on my last project, I see quite a few places where we went wrong.
One of the main problems, of course, was that all of our main sources of funding fell through – we couldn’t survive long enough without them. I recently came across Curious Raven‘s blog, which has some interesting posts about business and innovation. This post had some of the typical VC responses to a project:
If this is so great, why isnt Google doing it?
It isnt possible that you are the only ones that figured it out Microsoft is probably doing this right now
We are interested, but come back after you already have revenue and then we can discuss funding
We will fund you, but you need a new management team, the business model needs to be changed, and we need to rethink the product you want to build
If you arent based in Silicon Valley, there is no way you can build a successful company
The things that I would change if I could? There are two main ones.
First, we should have made different decisions regarding hiring a business development manager. We needed a hands-on person who (prior to having a sales staff) would have been out there networking and selling the concept, rather than sitting at a desk doing nothing at £70k a year. Since he wasn’t familiar with the original concept (secure social networking), once he did have a sales staff, they decided to sell to completely the wrong market: primary schools. Little kids don’t frequent social networking sites, they don’t blog, upload photos and videos, or have discussions on forums. Wrong market. It was always designed around teens – kind of a LinkedIn for highschool/college, with an integral link to schools and networking for future career paths.
Secondly, I as project manager was in the bizarre situation of not having access to the financials, and not being able to make decisions and build a timeline based on that. I made decisions regarding servers, hiring, etc. based on the needs of the expected high-traffic transactional site. They were approved. What I didn’t have, and what always made me nervous, was the fact that this wasn’t tied to a financial plan that I had access to. No “we have XX amount of cash for the year, and all resources have to come out of this”. As the expected funding was lost, we were seriously in the red over time.
It is entirely my fault that I didn’t fight harder to make them understand that I needed access to the budget; instead I trusted that they knew what they were doing, and that there was going to be enough money. Until the day that I had to stand in front of a room of people, just prior to Christmas, and tell them that there wasn’t enough money to make payroll. As I tried to keep everyone as positive as possible, to put a better face on the news, I could feel my legs shaking, which I tried to keep from reflecting in my voice. Afterwards, I wanted to throw up. It is the hardest thing that I have ever had to do.
Some of what happened just comes down to bad luck. Everything that we ever counted on fell apart. Things that had been agreed upon, that all parties were quite excited about, fell apart. And then it was over…which I suppose is the flip side to startup success stories. I suppse, in the end, failed projects have as much (or more) to teach you than successful ones. It’s been a valuable experience…just one that I don’t wish to repeat in a hurry.