On Friday, November 17th, after dumping our SQL, Arnaud (our CTO) deleted all of our users and their pictures from our database, the equivalent of being brain-dead for a startup. There was no coming back.
Arnaud did his job. Now it was up to me to do mine, and think about what we did wrong with Picuous, to have us close down the company 18 months after having started to work on it. And coming in first place…
1. We wanted to start a company
You’ve certainly read about this online. But if there is a theme that is going to repeat itself throughout these three mistakes, is that they are very common. It seems like we made all three top mistakes one can make when starting a company. Which will lead us to our conclusion—hint: telling people fire is hot sometimes isn’t enough, they still have to get burned.
So yes—we wanted to start a company. This in itself is not necessarily bad. But when I started pitching my idea and managed to attract two other brilliant people to it, the team dynamic was too fragile. People were there because of the idea, not because we went along well (although we did afterwards). So we squashed any forewarnings and misgivings we had about my idea and rushed to produce something that would make our dream a little more tangible. Down the road, the idea would prove, well, not that good.
Conclusion: start something to change the world—don’t start a company.
2. We were a feature, not a product
Why was the idea not that good? We were a feature, not a product.
Bear with me through a quick digression. Feature vs product, nice to have vs got to have are dangerous distinctions. So let’s define a feature vs a product : when you build something on platforms, you’re a feature if your business is core to every platform you use. For example, Dropbox is a feature. Developing a cloud-based storage is core for both Apple, Microsoft and Google (who own mobile and desktop Operating Systems) and they will quickly execute it in the coming years. So acquisition is the most likely outcome for Dropbox.
What about image embedding? Getting into media starts with content. It was going to be tough for us to recreate a pool of quality content (it took 500px 5 years), so we thought we would latch on to existing photosharing services. But image embedding is actually core to their business (which is why a certain number of photosharing sites are now developing their own embedding technology). For them, we were but a feature, that they would rather develop internally. Not a good outcome for us.
Conclusion: distinguishing features from products is hard. But think hard about what other actors in your market should do and will do. If you’re building an increment to Facebook, be aware that Facebook will do it—eventually.
3. We avoided doing the hard work
Coding, designing, wire framing, setting up advertising and Launchrock pages—that isn’t hard work. Hard work is going to see your clients, calling new clients, negotiating contracts, getting people to care. It’s hard work because you care about your startup deeply and you don’t know how many “no” you can stomach. Because you maybe have second thoughts and doubts and are afraid you won’t be able to conceal them. Because you just don’t want to hear the truth.
Whatever the reason, you should get out of the building and look for a “no”. People see what they want to believe. We went and interviewed photographers. Only we took their why nots for yes, and their maybes for why nots. Look for reasons for your idea not to work. Startupping is hard enough for you to do it against the wrong enemies.
Conclusion: Yes, it’s hard work and it’s painful. But it’s still less painful than to have to stop your startup after 18 months.
We also suffered from not having enough data do take informed decisions (as dictated by the Lean Startup framework). Arnaud spent hours hacking together dashboards to get some good intelligence out of our data, and always ended up with something I wanted to tweak and change. Taking this idea further, we’re now working on Dashmin, a Google Analytics for your internal data. If you feel our pain, sign up here!
In the end, those mistakes are common because everyone makes them—even successful entrepreneurs. A lot of entrepreneurs get started with the will to start a company and latch on to an idea, instead of starting with a passion. But when things get rocky, you might realize, as we did, that there wasn’t the entrepreneur - market fit that is necessary to keep rolling when times are hard. And then… you’ll quit. And hopefully, start again.
Originally published on the Picuous blog.