10 Things I Learned from Four Months of Failures

I am a wantrepreneur. Normally that title is not something to be proud of, but in my case it’s the truth. I’ve always wanted to own and run a business. For me, it’s not about being the boss. It’s not about becoming freakishly rich creating the next Uber or Facebook. It’s not even about hating my full-time job. (Disclaimer: I freaking love my day job)

My want comes from a starry eyed desire to provide value to others. Entrepreneurship is all about creating and providing value to the world around you. This could be a restaurant cooking up some tasty food or a cell phone app that makes somebody’s life marginally easier. I want to leave this world a better place than I found it. That’s my mantra and my purpose in life.

“So Paul, why don’t you go start a business?”, you ask. Well, right now I’m trying. More specifically, I’m trying to find how I want to provide value. I spent all of college and a few years after, paralyzed with the questions “What do I do?”, “What business do I want to start?”, “What would succeed, and would I even enjoy it?” I filled up notebooks sketching out hundreds of ideas, only to find myself stuck again at the drawing board. It wasn’t until about five months ago that I realized that there’s not a perfect answer to those questions. And more importantly, I realized I’ll never find my way by just thinking myself in circles.

So in September 2018, I started this blog. The purpose of this blog was to detail my journey of testing 12 business ideas in 12 months. (I counted the blog as the first business idea) It’s been 4 months, and so far I’ve spent 140 hours and$1077.34 building three blogs and one mobile app. I wouldn’t consider any of the four projects I’ve built successes, but I did finish each one. (Which is saying something for me!)

“Wow! Four businesses!” you might think. Why would I call myself a wantrepreneur?

I don’t consider any of the projects I’ve built successful, because I haven’t generated revenue from them. Literally, $0. What’s worse, I’ve only monetized one of the four ideas. Woe is me, right? I’m certainly discouraged, but I’m not giving up just yet. I wanted to take some time to organize what I have learned from my four failures, as well as share that knowledge around. Everyone likes numbered lists, so here we go.

1. Find a schedule/system that works for you. (Setup a habit)

Motivation is fleeting, so set up habits, goals, and rewards to keep pushing through the hard times. The biggest thing I struggled with is mustering up the strength to code on my project after a 10 hour day of coding for my full-time job. Plan for this, and everybody’s plan will look different.

2. Market your product (Or get someone to do your marketing)

I wish I could go back in time and smack September Paul in the mouth. If I could I would yell, “Hire somebody to do your marketing for you! Paul, you don’t know shit about marketing.” I went into this journey thinking I could just post weekly on Reddit and Facebook about my progress. Oh and maybe, I could finally make one of those Twitter or Instagram accounts and build that for marketing. NO. Subreddit moderators will remove any self-promotion posts faster than you can check if it’s even up. Your personal Facebook account will be equally difficult to get meaningful feedback. (Unless you want feedback from Grandma) And if you’re like me and trying to build a twitter/insta following at the last minute, let me tell you it is a struggle.

3. Make it cost money! (And don’t save this step for last)

This seems like the most obvious one on the list. “No duh, a business needs to charge money”, you might be thinking. But I’m not talking about polished and completed products. I mean as soon as you’re asking people “would you pay for this”, you should have something to sell and put in their hands. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’s not good enough to ask people to pay for. The payment is the ultimate test if the prototype is worth it’s weight. (A price tag also makes users take you more seriously.) Even ideas that generate sneaky revenue (like ads), incorporating some kind of payment is a MUST. You’ll have the least amount of motivation/confidence at the end of building your project, so set up a payment stream as soon as possible.

4. Don’t build something you wouldn’t use/buy

Before I build any project, one of the first things I do is check if someone has already beat me to it. There’s often a solution that fits the exact use case I was thinking of, and it works better than I could have designed it. Someone else has already build the thing that I need, and I still don’t spend money on their superior product. When that happens, I realize that the product idea is a non-starter. If I wouldn’t buy or download the superior solution that I needed and searched in the first place, why would anyone else buy it? Use yourself as a litmus test, and ask: “If this was a thing, would I actually download it/ buy it?” Be honest.

5. Find someone that’s done it before to be your mentor

Frankly, this is something I haven’t done myself yet. However, I know is absolutely necessary for success. My plan from here on out is to find someone that is familiar with the niche I’m building, and reach out to them via email, LinkedIn, or Twitter. I’m not saying reach out to Mark Cuban and bug him with general business questions. Instead if you’re starting a candle and soap business, find someone that’s experiencing success with that and ask them for guidance. Ask them good questions to specific problems you’re having. Good questions will take you further than bad questions like “How did you do it?” or “Where do I start?”.

6. Keep the scope of the project small and simple. (Then make it simpler)

I’m a big dreamer, so this is something I personally struggle with a lot. I can plan out in detail how to put together a big project on paper. But actually executing each step to bring that project to life is hard. Keep stripping your plans until you’re left with a minimum viable product. No features, bells, or whistles.

7. Don’t hide your idea. Share it with everyone proudly, and get good at sharing it.

Sharing your work can be scary. Asking for feedback can be even scarier. But the more you do it the less scary it is. Personally, I get less emotionally attached to my work the more I share it. When I get told my business idea rocks or sucks after I’ve already shared it with 20 people each individual opinion holds less weight. When this happens you can start evaluating the feedback for what it is, raw unemotional data. Whatever your business idea is, you should be able to explain it in layman’s terms in one short line or phrase. For example, “Overwatch Pickaxe is a mobile app that helps you choose a video game character.”

8. One month is not enough time to build a business

Shocker. One month is barely enough time to build a meaningful prototype if you’re working in your free-time. If I could do it over again, I would allocate three to six months of part time work for each business idea. Work hard, use time wisely, but don’t set unrealistic deadlines for yourself.

9. Plan a vacation/break!

Everybody needs time to relax and decompress. Entrepreneurship is no different, cut out some time to rest and recover regularly. I like to keep the pace of my breaks about as often as I would vacation from a standard corporate job. Your work will suffer if you’re constantly stressed or exhausted. Go easy on yourself!

10. Take care of yourself while you’re hustling. Exercise, sleep, and eat right.

This point is so important I saved the best for last, so it sticks. Take care of your physical and mental health, or you’ll burn out in four months like I did. Plan for it, build habits, do whatever you have to do to stay healthy. Find what works for you. For ideas, here’s what I find works for me in this order:

  1. Exercise regularly (like 5x a week or more) — At least break a sweat each time
  2. Don’t eat garbage. Junk food does NOT give you energy, it’s gives you temporary comfort and is slowly killing you. You know this, eat right.
  3. Be around people. Talk out any problems, even if you’re an introvert like me.
  4. Go talk a doctor or therapist if you’re still in the dumps. It’s hard to ask for help, but you will not out-think or out-muscle mental illness. I know this from experience, don’t overthink it, suck up your pain/pride, and ask for help. If you have honestly tried 123^ consistently and it’s not helping, call the number on the back of your insurance card and ask around for in-network therapists. Be kind to yourself, and hang in there. 🙂

I put together this list for myself as much I did to share it with others. And I’m not giving up on my irrational goal of 12 startups in 12 months. Each week when I’m typing up my weekly report, I’m going to review this list and make sure I’m practicing what I preach. There’s an infinite amount of tips/advice for starting a business, but I wanted to organize and share something that I wish past me could have read.

***This month (February), I’m building a web app that helps players select which operator to play as in Rainbow Six Siege.

 

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