It’s been more than a year since we took the leap and started working on Sailr. Working on a startup is an experience of binaries – it’s mostly highs and lows, with very little in between. With every success and failure come new learnings, challenges and experiences.
Here’s what we wish we knew.
Sailr launched as a marketplace without a defined category, leaving it open and hoping that, like eBay and other marketplaces, people would be selling a gamut of products to interested would-be buyers. We were lucky to have some great press coverage that flooded the site with new users and products. However, we quickly discovered that we were not making connections between buyers and sellers as a result of the lack of marketplace focus.
We also thought our value to be a combination of a social network and marketplace. Building, maintaining and growing a social network is a massive project, and creating and growing a two-sided marketplace is also very challenging. Bringing the sellers and buyers together is vital: narrowing the category on the supply side and then attracting customers interested in that narrow category is likely the first step. From a tech perspective, trying to build a social network and marketplace meant double the code and more moving parts that could possibly break.
Start by doing one thing, and do it well.
Time and focus interaction
We believe that the more focused a business is, the less time required to make a project more successful. That is, time spent will likely be more productive and have a greater impact.
With Sailr, we were unfocused; hence our invested time was less effective — definitely not ideal with other full-time commitments. A focused business is more able to effectively draw conclusions and learn from “experiments”, tests or changes as a result of fewer variables and their possible interactions.
Building a support network of people you can turn to for advice and feedback is really important. It’s especially useful if they have had similar business experiences before and can provide some level of guidance – we call these people the “experts”. User feedback is certainly the most valuable, though; these are the people you need to satisfy — not the experts.
Sharing your ideas with others is valuable. Hearing different perspectives encourages new thoughts and challenges your own ideas, possibly leading to a greater overall product.
It’s paramount to stay true to yourself and ideas.
Feedback, especially from “experts”, is almost always conflicting as everyone has their own unique perspective to share. It’s ultimately up to you to decide what you wish to take on board. This is hard, and admittedly, something that is still a struggle for us.
Subscriptions and sales
Subscription revenue (and sales) is good. While we didn’t have many subscribers, those that subscribed didn’t cancel. Receiving the email notification from Stripe every month was motivating, and, to some extent, proof that the business was working.
Having a business that makes money from the beginning is ideal — costs don’t wait. You may have office space to pay for, web hosting, marketing costs to cover as well as other expenses.
Not relying on external capital is safer.
Be full-time if you can
While we are at school and university full-time (Nathan is in his last year — yay!) we can’t work 9-5 on our business ideas. When taking on a really big project, such as Sailr, it would have been beneficial to dedicate more time to growing and building it. Although, working on your business as a side project while studying or in a job provides a safer environment to test ideas in the hope that they grow.
Landing page “validation”
Don’t do it. With Sailr, we were convinced that our business was “validated” because we had 150 signups on our pre-launch website. When we launched the site only five of them signed up, and none of them paid. The best validation would be pre-selling the product to customers (even at a discounted rate). This shows real demand for the solution. Many products on Kickstarter work this way and The Grid is another great example.
We all have assumptions about what we think will happen. But what if they are wrong? With Sailr, we assumed that sellers would promote their own products using their existing social media outlets. This did not happen. The sellers expected Sailr to provide them with a network of buyers instantaneously. You can’t please everyone.
“Most startups fail” is indeed a truism. But we feel that within the startup community there is an over-emphasis on failing. There needs to be greater optimism and emphasis on success. Whether your business succeeds or fails, stay optimistic, focus on what you have learnt and look for the positives.
This post originally appeared on Medium.
Nathan Feiglin and Naomi Feiglin are co-founders of Sailr.