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25则“验尸报告”— 创业失败者启示录

时间:10-10-18 栏目:系统技术篇 作者:鲁智森也有文化 评论:0 点击: 12,693 次

 

人人都爱看成功者的故事——看他是如何克服重重阻碍,最终走向成功,创下丰功伟业(以及拥有巨大财富)。多少年来,人们始终坚持跟着成功人士的步伐一路取经,越多越好,绝不放弃!尽管看来看去都是重复再重复的成功之路和赢家经验,不管多眼熟咱们也一样乐此不疲。然而,只关注成功者并非正确的取经之道,而今这种观念早已肆意蔓延,成为一个普遍存在的社会问题。

来自于SmartBear软件公司Jason Cohen的一段话一针见血地向我们道出了这一问题:“只向成功者取经会带来难以想象的严重后果。单凭数据得出结论,的确非常轻松,简单,而且似乎也很合乎逻辑,而事实上,这种思维方式却在无形中产生了各种谬误和错误认识。”

幸好,有年轻的创业家之中,有一群尽管遭受了创业失败的经历,却仍然很乐意分享自己创业失败的故事,创业者非常热心地与我们分享了他们自己总结的失败原因和教训。我们从这些总结报告中挑选出25个精彩的报告片段与大家分享。在此之前,有三点说明:

读完下面的这些报告后,你们也会一样被他们的故事所打动,感受到所有历历在目的惨痛教训和带给我们的深刻启示!他们在总结自己的失败经历的同时所展现的真诚与坦白,把我们都深深地打动了!

我们不会在股票投资行业中寻找我们需要的个案,除非是那位Roger Ehrenberg 。在投资行业里,实在无法定义什么是真正的成功,除非能告诉我们具体有几次交易是你本人看中并且投资的,不然你无法证明你在这个行业中非常成功,不会失败。

如果在我们所提到的这些个案之外,您还有其他的好案例与我们分享,欢迎您留言。要是你仔细看下面的报告,你会发现实际上我们分享了32则报告。这多出来的7则就当做是额外给大家的吧!

下文所有的报告排名不分先后。我们挑选的报告片段,都是比较风趣,或发人深思,抑或情节扣人心弦的,更有些兼而有之的内容。我们不会在最后写所谓的总结性呈辞,所以大家可以慢慢地看,也可以隔三岔五地来看个报告直到看完:

验尸报告之一:我怎么会失败呢?

我非常确定,我想到的这个创意是一个非常不错的创举!就像爱迪生的灯泡,像比尔盖茨的PC操作系统,我想我也能发动另一次人类历史革命性的发明,从而改造社会,同时也带给我财富和名望。我当时几乎就快成成为美国历史上第一个制造和销售避孕套钥匙环的人!

验尸报告之二: 个人理财服务网站Wesabe为何败给Mint.com

公司名:Wesabe

当事人:Marc Hedlund

相较于Mint使用的集成数据处理系统,Wesabe所采用的系统要求用户做更多繁琐的事情,在这一点上,用户很容易就会认为在Mint.com的使用感受更为满意。我们一直坚持独立的客户服务解决方案,不依赖于其他供应商,保护用户的隐私,并且帮助用户在理财上有切实的改善和进步。所有这些都是值得坚持的正确信条,我们坚持认为需要以理智的态度来一步步达成我们的理想。我认为所有这些都是正确的,不存在问题,至于大家都觉得我们的产品更难使用,只是因为他们都看不到或者根本不关心长远的利益。

验尸报告之三:ArsDigita – 从合伙创业到分崩离析

公司名:ArsDigita

当事人:Philip Greenspun

大约从一年前开始,ArsDigita公司的三位决定性高层——公司的执行总裁Allen Shaheen ,合伙人Peter Bloom(美国泛大西洋投资集团)和Chip Hazard (Greylock投资集团)同时开始觊觎独占公布的所有权,以期能完全拥有公司权力。在今年,公司又做了几件非常愚蠢的事情:

1. 今年公司投入了2000万美元的资金,才使业绩回到了我任CEO时的水平。

2. 当时我拒绝了微软的聘书,决定留在公司着力开发一个新型的网络产品,公司计划以此为契机,转变成第一家提供办公软件解决方案的企业。(当时Allen又找回了一位曾跳槽去微软的旧同事,回到公司担任执行总裁,公司已经有数个执行总裁了。那么多CEO在一起共事,不倒闭才怪……)。

3. 在新产品(ACS 4.x)还未完成出口之时,他们就决定放弃旧一代完型的产品(ACS 3.4)。大家都知道,这对于一家专攻软件产品的公司来说,简直就是自寻死路。的确有过成功的先例,可那只是曾经的Informix,当时他们决定放弃当时的产品是因为新旧产品一同投入市场,导致用户不清楚地该买第九代新产品,还是第七代产品。所以他们决定放弃Informix,取而代之的是组建了Oracle(甲骨文)。

4. 公司员工的工资水平过高,我手下有80位员工的基本薪水在10万美金以下,但是他们所创造的价值却是每年2000万的创收。而其他两位合伙人的属下中有200位员工的薪资水平在20万美金以上。基本的程序员就有12.5万的基本薪资。

不注重公司的市场领导力,而一味地强调企业文化和精神。

验尸报告之四:RiotVine失败的惨痛教训

公司名: RiotVine.com

当事人: Kabir

成功最关键的,并非创意点子好不好,而是取决于会让人们说些什么。

Foursquare推出的”地区市长”头衔意外赢得了用户们的高度好评,这位我们带来了极大的帮助。假设我是某个地区的市长,和一个人正在网站上聊道:”你怎么能做到市长的?”“因为我来这个地方的次数比你多啊。”“做市长有什么好处吗?”……再看看大家都是怎么谈论到Gowalla(另一个LBS社区)的:”我刚刚把一张自行车兑换贴兑换了六张啤酒兑换贴,然后拿了六箱啤酒!”“你说什么?哦,是的,我还是处女。” 大家看到有什么不同了吗?所以,这就告诉我们,你的产品必须能够被消费者们以轻松简单愉快的方式谈论。

验尸报告之五:The Last AnNounce(r)ment

公司名: 不详

当事人: Eran Hammer-Lahav

从上个月开始,我发现陆续有近一半以上我曾开过户的天使投资代理公司纷纷找到了我的家属们推销业务。我觉得非常好奇,开始观察他们的工作,一一找出他们究竟是怎样找到我家属的资料的。我由此萌生了一个灵感,并且觉得值得一试。于是我开始积极筹划,找到了一些具有相关能力的朋友一起合伙创业。但是,我却一直无法找到合适的伙伴,这时我真正意识到,原来并不是所有问题都能用钱解决。

验尸报告之六:为什么我的电子招聘网站会失败呢?

当这个想法在我脑中诞生之后,我既激动又紧张,开始在脑海中勾勒整个创业的图景,我坚信它将彻底改变求职搜索领域。我还写了网站的代码,准备开始大干一场。但我并想过如果把这个东西做出来,是否真的会有公司愿意出钱来买它。

验尸报告之七:永别了!BricaBox  

公司名: BricaBox

当事人: Eran Hammer-Lahav

设想下与你一起合伙创业的合伙人突然跑了,那有多么糟糕——这种不幸的事情被我撞见了。不要急着去清算身上因此背负了多少坏账,死账(因为一旦第二合伙人逃跑的消息传了出去,所有投资人都将会因此而不满,甚至撤销投资金)。所以遇到这种情况,正确的解决之道是卷起袖子,做好准备度过一段长长的艰苦时期,直到权限全部归还给你那天为止。

验尸报告之八:Boompa.com

创办人忠告:创业第一步——搜索,组建团队,找好办公室,准备好资金

公司名: Boompa.com

我和我的合伙人准备建立一支名为”僵尸敢死队(Zombie Team)”的团队,帮助我们一起完成个很复杂的项目。我们一起商量,设计出了一套面试题,用来挑选我们的团队成员。题目是:如果地球上突然被僵尸侵占,情况岌岌可危,那种情况下你会信任自己的团队伙伴吗?你觉得会有伙伴会主动来保护你吗?最关键的一个问题是,如果只有一把枪,团队中有其他人比你射击技术更好,你会把枪交给他吗?如果面试者的回答全是“不”,那就说明他不具备担任这项工作的资格。

验尸报告之八:Xmarks何以走向绝路

公司名: Xmarks

当事人:Todd

整整四年时间里,我们持续地向用户提供免费的整合服务。我们坚信一个成功的商业模式都是从免费服务开始的。但是四年的投入成本使我们弹尽粮绝,不得不关门停业

验尸报告之九:EventVue的惨痛教训

公司名:EventVue

我们的失败源自企业文化中的三大谬论:

  • 不注重培养员工的学习与增值,没有与时俱进的经营态度,等意识到问题时才后悔不已。
  • 没有对市场营销给予应有的关注和发展。
  • 在人员聘用上,不断降低人才录用的标准,对人才能力的要求做出妥协。

验尸报告之十: 从YouCastr失败中得到的启示

公司名: YouCastr

对所有初创的公司来说,最初的一段经营期内,同时也是对自己的商业模式进行测试,我们所从事的就是提供视频影片的剪辑制作服务。我们就是被夹在制作方和观众这两者之间的角色。渐渐发现,三方的投入和支出并不成比。所以我们决定调整业务以改善状况。为了避免与行业中的大型公司竞争,我们选择了尝试其他的服务,类似(PPV视频播放平台)等同类产品,但这类服务并没有多少市场,只能关门。

再说说这个行业,目前所有视频影片制作服务的收费都是相当高的。因为大家都认为这属于专业技术领域。尽管的确如此,要是我们剪辑完的影片不能博得观众的喜爱,卖不了好的票房,制作方就会拖延付款周期。当然我们确实有一些生意,都是些类似学校里的武术教学片断,专业会议视频等)小生意,根本不够支撑我们公司的运营。


We love a good entrepreneurial success story – entrepreneur as protagonist overcomes obstacles and builds a thriving, successful company (and become wealthy while doing so).  We want to hear about, learn from and even replicate what they’ve done.  However, this survivorship bias is problematic.  Jason Cohen of Smart Bear Software does a nice job articulating this issue stating:

The fact that you are learning only from success is a deeper problem than you imagine…drawing conclusions only from data that is available or convenient and thus systematically biasing your results.

Luckily, the startup community often courageously shares their stories – even when things don’t end well.  And so below is our list of the 25 “best” startup failure post-mortems of all time.  Three notes before we begin:

  1. After reading these, you realize more than ever that the startup community is really like no other.  We were amazed by the candor and generosity of many of the writers of these post-mortems.  Corporate America could learn from this.
  2. We didn’t find post-mortems by investors (VCs, angels, etc) except for one by Roger Ehrenberg.  We’d love to see these given the number of businesses you see and ultimately invest in.  It would be an admission that you’re not infallible, but we already know that :)
  3. If we’ve missed a great post-mortem others would benefit from reading, please leave it in the comments, and we’ll add it.  BTW, if you do the count, there are actually 32 post-mortems in this post.  Think of it as 7 bonus post-mortems on the house.

If you are an entrepreneur seeking funding, try our free Funding Recommendation Engine to identify a list of angels, venture capital and state grant programs that best match your business.  It’s free.  Get started here.

With that preamble, here is the list in no particular order.  We’ve picked quotes out of each that we thought were insightful, funny, poignant or some combo of the three.  They in no way summarize the posts so please do read them (but probably not all at one time).

 

Post-Mortem Title:  How My Startup Failed

There was no doubt about it: I had discovered The Next Big Thing. Like Edison and the lightbulb, like Gates and the pc operating system, I would launch a revolution that would transform society while bringing me wealth and fame. I was about to become the first person in America to sell condom key chains.

Post-Mortem Title:  Why Wesabe Lost to Mint
Company:  Wesabe
Author:  Marc Hedlund

Between the worse data aggregation method and the much higher amount of work Wesabe made you do, it was far easier to have a good experience on Mint, and that good experience came far more quickly. Everything I’ve mentioned — not being dependent on a single source provider, preserving users’ privacy, helping users actually make positive change in their financial lives — all of those things are great, rational reasons to pursue what we pursued. But none of them matter if the product is harder to use, since most people simply won’t care enough or get enough benefit from long-term features if a shorter-term alternative is available.

Post-Mortem Title:  ArsDigita – From Start-up to Bust-up
Company:  ArsDigita
Author:  Philip Greenspun

For roughly one year Peter Bloom (General Atlantic), Chip Hazard (Greylock), and Allen Shaheen (CEO) exercised absolute power over ArsDigita Corporation. During this year they

  1. spent $20 million to get back to the same revenue that I had when I was CEO
  2. declined Microsoft’s offer (summer 2000) to be the first enterprise software company with a .NET product (a Microsoft employee came back from a follow-up meeting with Allen and said “He reminds me of a lot of CEOs of companies that we’ve worked with… that have gone bankrupt.”)
  3. deprecated the old feature-complete product (ACS 3.4) before finishing the new product (ACS 4.x); note that this is a well-known way to kill a company among people with software products experience; Informix self-destructed because people couldn’t figure out whether to run the old proven version 7 or the new fancy version 9 so they converted to Oracle instead)
  4. created a vastly higher cost structure; I had 80 people mostly on base salaries under $100,000 and was bringing in revenue at the rate of $20 million annually. The ArsDigita of Greylock, General Atlantic, and Allen had nearly 200 with lots of new executive positions at $200,000 or over, programmers at base salaries of $125,000, etc. Contributing to the high cost structure was the new culture of working 9-5 Monday through Friday. Allen, Greylock, and General Atlantic wouldn’t be in the building on weekends and neither would the employees bother to come in.
  5. surrendered market leadership and thought leadership

Post-Mortem Title: RiotVine Post-Mortem
Company: RiotVine
Author: Kabir

It’s not about good ideas or bad ideas: it’s about ideas that make people talk.

And this worked really well for foursquare thanks to the mayorship. If I tell someone I’m the mayor of a spot, I’m in an instant conversation: “What makes you the mayor?” “That’s lame, I’m there way more than you” “What do you get for being mayor?”. Compare that to talking about Gowalla: “I just swapped this sticker of a bike for a sticker of a six pack of beer! What? Yes, I am still a virgin”. See the difference? Make some aspect of your product easy and fun to talk about, and make it unique.

Post-Mortem Title: The Last AnNounce(r)ment
Company: Nouncer
Author: Eran Hammer-Lahav

A month ago, half way through my angel funds raised from family members, I decided to review the progress I’ve made and figure out what still needs to happen to make this a viable business. I was also actively pursuing raising VC funds with the help of a very talented and well connected friend. At the end, I asked myself what are the most critical resources I need to be successful and the answer was partners and developers. I’ve been looking for both for about a year and was unable to find the right people. I realized that money was not the issue.

Post-Mortem Title: My eHarmony for Hiring Failure

This started to make me more nervous. I was manifesting this huge monolithic application in my head that would revolutionize the job search, I had even written some code at this point, and didn’t have any idea if actual businesses were willing to pay a dime for it.

Post-Mortem Title: BricaBox: Goodbye World!
Company: BricaBox
Author: Nate Westheimer

Go vest yourself.
When a co-founder walks out of a company — as was the case for me — you’ve already been dealt a heavy blow. Don’t exacerbate the issue by needing to figure out how to deal with a large equity deadweight on your hands (investors won’t like that the #2 stakeholder is absent, even estranged, from your company). So, the best way of dealing with this issue is to take a long, long vesting period for all major sweat equity founders.

Post-Mortem Title: Boompa.com Launch Postmortem, Part 1: Research, Picking a Team, Office Space and Money
Company: Boompa.com

Ethan and I came up with the “Zombie Team” test for figuring out whether or not someone is ready to work on an intense project, be it a start-up or otherwise. The test is this: If zombies suddenly sprung from the earth, could you trust the perspective team member to cover your back? Would they tell you if they got bit? Most importantly would you give them the team’s only gun if you knew they were the better shot? If the answer is no to any of those questions you need to let them get eaten by the cubicle wasteland of corporate culture, because they aren’t ready for this kind of work.

Post-Mortem Title:  End of the Road for Xmarks
Company: Xmarks (company seems semi-dead given recent pledgebank setup)
Author:  Todd
For four years we have offered the synchronization service for no charge, predicated on the hypothesis that a business model would emerge to support the free service. With that investment thesis thwarted, there is no way to pay expenses, primarily salary and hosting costs. Without the resources to keep the service going, we must shut it down.
Post-Mortem Title:  EventVue Post-Mortem
Company:  EventVue

Our Deadly Cultural Mistakes:

– didn’t focus on learning & failing fast until it was too late

- didn’t care/focus enough about discovering how to market eventvue

– made compromises in early hiring decisions – choose expediency over talent/competency

Post-Mortem Title:  YouCastr – A Post-Mortem
Company: YouCastr
Author: Ariel Diaz

The market was not there

The thesis of our current business model (startups are all about testing theses) was that there was a need for video producers and content owners to make money from their videos, and that they could do that by charging their audience. We found both sides of that equation didn’t really work. I validated this in my conversations with companies with more market reach than us, that had tried similar products (ppv video platform), but pulled the plug because they didn’t see the demand for it.

Video producers are afraid of charging for content, because they don’t think people will pay. And they’re largely right. Consumers still don’t like paying for stuff, period. We did find some specific industry verticals where the model works (some high schools, some boxing and mixed martial arts events, some exclusive conferences), but not enough to warrant a large market and an independent company.

Post-Mortem Title:  Leaving IonLab
Company:  IonLab
Author:  Swaroop C H
Second, as one of my friends observed, I talked to about 7 people (both acquaintances and friends) whose judgment I trusted. 3 of them sympathized and agreed with my decision and 4 of them admonished me and asked me to “hang in there.” You know what was the clincher? The first 3 had done startups themselves and the latter 4 had not. The latter 4 did not really understand the context, even though they meant well and are intelligent folks.
Post-Mortem Title:  Lessons Learned
Company:  Devver
The most significant drawback to a remote team is the administrative hassle. It’s a pain to manage payroll, unemployment, insurance, etc in one state. It’s a freaking nightmare to manage in three states (well, two states and a district), even though we paid a payroll service to take care of it. Apparently, once your startup gets larger, there are companies that will manage this with minimal hassle, but for a small team, it was a major annoyance and distraction.
Post-Mortem Title:  Lessons from Kiko, web 2.0 startup, about Its Failure
Company:  Kiko
Author:  Mahesh M Piddshetti
Make an environment where you will be productive. Working from home can be convenient, but often times will be much less productive than a separate space. Also its a good idea to have separate spaces so you’ll have some work/life balance.
Post-Mortem Title:  Lessons Learned: Startup Failure Part 1
Company:  Overto
Author:  Pawel Brodzinski
Thin line between life and death of internet service is a number of users. For the initial period of time the numbers were growing systematically. Then we hit the ceiling of what we could achieve effortlessly. It was a time to do some marketing. Unfortunately no one of us was skilled in that area. Even worse, no one had enough time to fill the gap.
Post-Mortem Title:  Monitor110: A Post-Mortem
Company:  Monitor110
Author:  Roger Ehrenberg

The Seven Deadly Sins

While we certainly made more than seven mistakes during the nearly four-year life of Monitor110, I think these top the list.

  1. The lack of a single, “the buck stops here” leader until too late in the game
  2. No separation between the technology organization and the product organization
  3. Too much PR, too early
  4. Too much money
  5. Not close enough to the customer
  6. Slow to adapt to market reality
  7. Disagreement on strategy both within the Company and with the Board
Post-Mortem Title:  Why We Shut NewsTilt Down
Company:  NewsTilt
Author:  Paul Biggar

None of these problems should have been unassailable, which leads us to why NewsLabs failed as a company:

  • Nathan and I had major communication problems,
  • we weren’t intrinsically motivated by news and journalism,
  • making a new product required changes we could not make,
  • our motivation to make a successful company got destroyed by all of the above.
Post-Mortem Title:  Aftermath
Company:  Diffle

For anyone faced with winding down a company, I’d highly recommend taking a while off before making any big decisions, and not just the two and a half weeks that I’d initially tried. You’re not thinking straight when your startup dies – your perspective may be a bit different in a few months, as might your preferences for what you want to do next.

The corollary to that is to wind up your startup before you’re totally out of money, so that you have options for what to do next and don’t have to bargain from a place of total weakness.

Author:  Stephan Schmidt

So the most important thing is to sell – a fact lots of startups forget. And we did too. After much thought it comes down to these six reasons why we failed (beside the obvious one that the VC market imploded when we needed money and noone was able to get any funding):

  1. We didn’t sell anything
  2. We didn’t sell anything
  3. We didn’t sell anything
  4. The market window was not yet open
  5. We focused too much on technology
  6. We had the wrong business model
Company: PlayCafe
Author:  Mark Goldenson
I would advise any entrepreneur or investor considering content to think twice, as Howard Lindzon from Wallstrip warned us. Content is an order of magnitude harder than technology with an order less upside; no YouTube producer will earn within a hundredth of $1.65 billion. This will only become more true as DVRs and media-sharing reduce revenues and pay-for-performance ads eliminate inefficient ad spend, of which there is a lot. The main and perhaps only reason to do content should be the love of creating it.
Post-Mortem Title:  Lessons from our Failed Startup
Company:  SMSnoodle
I have been hearing this advise from the time I have been in my mother’s womb.Dont take this easily.If you are a techie there are more chances that you won’t follow this advise. Your heart doesn’t get satisfied with any levels of development.Ignore your heart.Listen to your brain. If you are a web startup , you can take max 6 months to release your first version( for something like mint.com) .Simpler websites shouldn’t take more than 2-3 months.You can always iterate and extrapolate later.Wet your feet asap.
Post-Mortem Title:  Untitled Partners Post-Mortem
Company:  Untitled Partners
Author:  Jordan Cooper
Hiring is hard, and without proper experience, we should have leaned more heavily on our investors to help us with this decision. Hiring was a challenge we found difficult throughout the life of our Company. We made as many bad decisions as we did good ones with regard to hiring full time, part time, and independent contractors/consultants. Biggest takeaway: As soon as the data starts to suggest someone might be the wrong hire, don’t wait, immediately start recruiting a replacement, and upgrade as soon as possible.
Company:  Cryptine Networks
Author:  Andrew Fife
No matter how close of friends, how much you trust each other or how good your intentions are money comes between people and everyone over estimates their own contributions. Furthermore, founders become highly emotional about their companies. Thus, the process of negotiating taking back stock from founders is not rational and inherently very difficult. However, vesting schedules reduce the difficult negotiation to simply and mechanically exercising the companies pre-agreed right to repurchase stock at the price it was issued. I foolishly let myself fall into the “it won’t happen to me” trap but no startup gets it right on the first try and theses hiccups often lead to changes in the team. Believing that any startup won’t have to deal with stock vesting issues is totally unrealistic.
Company:  SubMat
Author:  Laurent Krentz
My philosophy was to get as far as possible with a small seed round. To do this, I thought keeping my day job would allow to spend the money wisely on product or marketing actions. Wrong. Quit your job (if you can), and get down to business. Period. You need to be dedicated to your project, meet people, talk about it, code and hack this sh*t out of it. At the end of the day, I was doing both things wrong: my day job, and my startup.
Post-Mortem Title:  Imercive Post-Mortem
Company:  Imercive
Author:  Keith B. Nowak
For one, we stuck with the wrong strategy for too long. I think this was partly because it was hard to admit the idea wasn’t as good as I originally thought or that we couldn’t make it work. If we had been honest with ourselves earlier on we may have been able to pivot sooner and have enough capital left to properly execute the new strategy. I believe the biggest mistake I made as CEO of imercive was failing to pivot sooner.
Post-Mortem Title:  Meetro Post Mortem
Company:  Meetro (aka Lefora)
Author: Paul
We could have gone about trying to fix Meetro but the team was just ready to move on. Raising money on the flat growth we had was nearly impossible. Plus I knew that in order to keep the tight-knit team we had built together, we needed to shift focus for sanity sake. People (myself included) just felt beat up. We knew that fixing these issues would involve a complete rearchitecturing of the code, and people just weren’t excited about the idea enough anymore to do it right.
Post-Mortem Title:  Post Mortem on a Failed Product
Company:  eCrowds
Author:  David Cummings
As the product became more and more complex, the performance degraded. In my mind, speed is a feature for all web apps so this was unacceptable, especially since it was used to run live, public websites. We spent hundreds of hours trying to speed of the app with little success. This taught me that we needed to having benchmarking tools incorporated into the development cycle from the beginning due to the nature of our product.
Company:  RealTime Worlds
Note:  This post-mortem is not by the company and so is unlike others in the list and is quite editorial (warning).

Dave Jones made a virtue of having no business model for APB. He said “if a game is built around a business model, that’s a recipe for failure.”

Bullsh1t.

Post-Mortem Title:  A Startup Idea Postmortem: Proof That Good Ideas Aren’t Always Good Business
Author:  Rob May

But the more we moved down the path, the more I realized the complexities involved with selling answers. Knowledge is a tricky thing to sell, because even experts disagree on some answers. What’s worse, most people think they know more than they really do. Look at how many idiots think they know stocks, or programming, or even business. Nearly everyone thinks they can give good management tips. It is difficult to sell something so… confusing, and we realized it would lead to problems down the road. Yahoo, and most of the other sites, fix this by having people vote on the best answer, but we couldn’t post answers in public because that would take away our residual incentives. And anyway, I’m not convinced in the “wisdom of crowds” for anything beyond general knowledge. It doesn’t work for domain specific stuff.

Post-Mortem Title:  Co-Founder Potts Shares Lessons Learned from Backfence Bust
Company:  Backfence
Author:  Mark Potts | Mark Glaser

Hyper-local is really hard. Don’t kid yourself. You don’t just open the doors and hit critical mass. We knew that from the jump. It takes a lot of work to build a community. Look carefully at most hyper-local sites and see just how much posting is really being done, especially by members of the community as opposed to be the sites’ operators. Anybody who’s run a hyper-local site will tell you that it takes a couple of years just to get to a point where you’ve truly got a vibrant online community. It takes even longer to turn that into a viable business. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, Backfence was unable to sustain itself long enough to reach that point.

Post-Mortem Title:  What an Entrepreneur Learned from His Failed Startup (interview)
Company:  Sedna Wireless
Author:  Rajiv Poddar | Kamla Bhatt

Finances were just one part of the story. The other part was that we failed to execute our own plans. Both external factors (e.g. the hardware ecosystem in India) and internal reasons (e.g. the expertise of the team) played a role. With money it would have lasted a bit more longer.

Post-Mortem Title:  Couldery Shouldery
Company:  Lookery
Author:  Scott Rafer

We exposed ourselves to a huge single point of failure called Facebook. I’ve ranted for years about how bad an idea it is for startups to be mobile-carrier dependent. In retrospect, there is no difference between Verizon Wireless and Facebook in this context. To succeed in that kind of environment requires any number of resources. One of them is clearly significant outside financing, which we’d explicitly chosen to do without. We could have and should have used the proceeds of the convertible note to get out from under Facebook’s thumb rather to invest further in the Facebook Platform.

Post-Mortem Title: How To Develop a Product Nobody Wants
Company: ChubbyBrain

Like a Printer/Fax/Copy Machine – We were trying to be a credible data company and a community. Most companies struggle to be good at just one thing, and we decided we were going to be good at two. Bottom line – We are data guys. We’re good at data. We like data. Community was about things we didn’t have as much familiarity with, i.e., social media, game mechanics, community building, etc. These were things when we started that we honestly had little insight into given the composition of our team. Even those who know these things intimately will admit it can be difficult. As novices, the task was even more daunting.

We have shamelessly included our own quasi post mortem. We messed up a lot of things in v1.0 of ChubbyBrain so this is a post-mortem of our first product which we’ve gotten a lot of nice and positive feedback on. We’re happy to report we are still alive.

If you have a friend, colleague who is starting their own business, and you found one of these post-mortems useful, please share this with them.  Success stories are inspiring of course, but there is a lot to be learned from failure.  And the startup community, as evidenced from the above, is immensely generous in sharing their knowledge – whether the outcome is good or bad.  Best of luck in your venture.

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