For the most part of our research we only get to see all the success-filled stories of all the companies out there, I’ll like to share with you my experience with my first company and the reasons why it failed. Mind you, I was still very young at the time and just trying to make it out in the world with some great ideas. My experience is not to discourage any young persons out there from following their dreams, if anything this is to encourage you to follow up with your dreams by avoiding the mistakes I made.
I’ll start by saying that there is no such thing like “A billion-dollar idea”, if you can become a billionaire selling air then by all means do so, but don’t waste your time looking for the perfect idea that is just going to work in the right way. My idea in this case wasn’t necessarily the greatest of ideas, what I discovered was how to apply a technology which already existed on the other side of the world to my local community. That’s just sometimes what it comes down to, think about how you could start an Uber service in Africa, how to launch a food chain company, a food delivery app which will work in the context of your community. No need looking for the craziest ideas which nobody has ever invented, you are surrounded by great ideas, billion-dollar ideas.
The great idea
My idea was great (at least in my head), I identified a problem and I saw a way to fix it. There was nobody else doing this in the whole country, the resources to launch the project were available, the market and demand were everywhere and implementing the project was just going to take a couple of months to do at best. There were already a good number of persons at my door step ready to pay for this service, the project didn’t need any funding, I could do all the coding work and implement it all by myself. There was literally nothing stopping me from going ahead with this project, I was thrilled and fully excited to get this off the ground, my confidence in the success of the project was 100%, I just couldn’t see anything which could possibly go wrong with it.
The Team & Problems
I soon realized that despite the fact that I could code the entire project all by myself, I’ll still need a team of people who could assist me in different aspects of the project; marketing, transactions, maintenance etc. It turns out that I underestimated the coding time, I had anticipated it would take 3 months at most, but it turns out that even after that amount of time, I still didn’t have a version good enough to ship, so I needed more people to help me code. Finding people wasn’t a problem, there were definitely a lot of persons very competent all around me, I would soon find a few persons who wanted to work with me. I was unable to share the vision & passion I had for the project to them, being so young I lacked as well the leadership and management skills to deal with most of the difficulties I’ll come to face.
The few people I found who were mostly just other students in my class weren’t employees, I wasn’t paying them to work on the project, so every time the project dragged on, the less motivated they got. One issue followed another, either we were too hungry to work or a technical issue due to our lack of knowledge would frustrate us all. Eventually people started leaving the team one after the other, there was nothing I could do since the only assets I could pay people with was my passion and empty promises. The team fell apart, and I ended up working on the project all alone. You can’t really blame people for not following your vision, everybody needs an incentive to work, for me it was my passion but they didn’t have much incentive to do so.
Being so young, there was quite a lot that I didn’t know, which made it extremely difficult for me whenever I stumbled on a problem. It can be difficult to search for the solution to a problem when you can’t even identify the problem. I kept meeting roadblocks on the way, the next one always more difficult than the previous, sometimes to add a feature needed for me to buy a plugin (but I didn’t have any money) which meant I had to code the entire feature all by myself. When I didn’t understand how to do something, I had to go study, which was sure to be another month added to the timeline. Being in a position of ignorance made it extremely difficult to solve these problems and the more the project dragged on, the less motivated I got, after 9 months and still no concrete work done, I was fed up already.
The problem here is that when we come up with a project, we usually look at the end goal only, what it is we want to accomplish but when it comes down to the technicalities, it can be really complicated to appreciate that accurately.
For example you might think about solving poverty or hunger around the world, it could be as easy as just providing food to those countries, you may know exactly where to get the food, to whom to give the food and how to get the food to those persons but when it comes down to it you may face technical issues such as; food processing, administrative blocks, distribution issues etc but when thinking of the project it did sound perfect in your head.
The Market wasn’t ready
When starting the project, I didn’t carry out any market studies, I didn’t even make a survey to find out how many people were going to be interested in the project. Basically, I assumed that since the problem was obvious and since I was able to solve that specific problem, then I was sure to get clients without any doubts. I learned that things aren’t always as straight forward like you might think, even with a perfectly functional solution, there is still a huge work of presentation, marketing and training that most be done in order to make that solution appealing to the public. Also, because I was so confident in my idea, I didn’t care about testing it on a small scale before deploying, I went for a large scale application all at once, I thought to myself that a web application would be the ideal, people just needed to get to the website and click a few buttons in order to solve that problem. I’d soon come to realize that even the process of clicking on just a few buttons needs a whole procedure of training, you can’t just assume that people are going to be able to find their way through whatever thing you hand to them.
I didn’t know market
Without conducting any studies, I didn’t know the market, I didn’t understand how it worked or how to approach the different customers. Websites weren’t very popular at that time and there was still a lot of skepticism all around the idea of the internet, the most people knew about the internet were just the scams they heard about happening on there. The internet as a whole had a very bad rep to it and my project wasn’t going to change that, not only did I have to do the coding, marketing, training, maintenance etc I also now had a new job of convincing people not to fear the internet, needless to say that was impossible. I didn’t understand the market, and that evidently was my downfall. When the first version of the project eventually arrived, there was already a need for something totally different, the problem had evolved and a more optimized solution was needed and due to my ignorance, the solution I had built wasn’t iterable, I needed to start the work from the beginning. That was definitely not going to happen.
I had no investment aside from my time
Being young I didn’t have much money to put in the project, what I had the most was just my time, an abundance of it. Unfortunately, it takes more than just time in order to make a project successful, even if you can build the project all by yourself, you’ll need money for the hosting of the solution, for the administrative papers, for the marketing, additional features, flyers, posters etc these are all things I neglected and made total abstraction of when launching the project. I didn’t take the time to realize that I would be needing these, but instead I was thrilled by the fact that I could build the entire project all by myself. I drastically underestimated the role of marketing in the whole project, to me I assumed that the beautiful interface with the fancy buttons and the huge sliders would do all the marketing work, I thought to myself that I didn’t need to sell the solution to people, it would sell itself once people saw it, but as it turns out, even a huge “click me” button in the center of the screen isn’t clear enough for most people to understand that they have to click on that button.
What I should have realized was that I needed to raise funds in order to invest in the marketing, be it by printing out flyers or posters or by paying for ads, but I totally neglected the marketing and solely focused on the coding.
This is a big problem in software development, we always have a hard time estimating how much time it would take for us to complete a project, that’s why software development has evolved into a versioning framework, where we constantly bring updates to a piece of project by adding additional features in every version. At the time I was building that project, we were still in the scope of “one-time ship all” framework, you had to make sure all the features were included in that final version before you could deploy it. I had anticipated the project was going to take roughly 3 months, but it ended up taking 2 years, I was only focused on the finished product, I didn’t go through the research phase nor did I take the time to evaluate all what it will take in order to bring the project together, I just knew I wanted to get straight away into the coding part which was what I liked doing.
Master of All
Being the only one working on the project, I was forced to do everything which place a burden on me and eventually led to me making mistakes one after the other. A company or startup isn’t just about the idea, it takes more than just that to get things running and working. The idea needs a business plan, a marketing strategy, an implementation strategy, a development schedule, a design pattern, a management scheme and many more things. These are parts of a project which you have to find people to work on, you can try doing it all yourself but it will just put more pressure on you. I took on all these roles at once and I couldn’t handle it, first because I wasn’t trained in any of them and secondly because depending on the project, these departments come with a whole lot of work to do.
I won’t say you can’t launch a company today by yourself but depending on your sector of activity you will need people to manage the different activities inorder for it to work. Very often, especially when we are young, we operate under the guise of “luck”, we think that if the idea is ground breaking enough then we can do it by ourselves but in reality it takes more than just a person to make things work. You can have an idea which is wonderful but it will be a mistake trying to do it all alone, eventually you will have to include people at some point in order to ensure that the execution succeeds.
I’d say to anybody out there trying to get started with a company, make sure you know how to manage poeple, friendship isn’t going to cut it, divide the tasks among a group of persons and ensure everyone is pulling his part, carry out a concrete study of the market to make sure you understand the problem not just superficially but also technically, make sure you understand who your customers are and what is the exact problem you are aiming to solve. Don’t just sit at home assuming you know what people want but rather go out and get the information you need from as many people as you can. Another thing is, you will need to raise some amount of money to fund your project, this depends on the marketing media you are targeting, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you don’t need any money, at the very least you should be able to reward yourself and team.
Thanks for reading ☺️