I’m currently working on a cool startup called SubMate. SubMate allows you to discover the familiar strangers you see every day in the subway. This super cool idea has some history. Here is how I learnt some basic entrepreneurship lessons, the hard way.
About 4 years ago (early 2006), while I was living in New York, we sat down with a good friend to tackle an idea we had. It turned out to be a cool idea, something that would solve a problem (or fill a gap) we all knew. The service we imagined would allow subway commuters to discover and meet each other. SubMate was born.
In brief, we failed. We failed for various reasons, and it took us two years to pull the plug.
As you might know if you know me or if you’re following me on twitter, the concept of SubMate was still booming in my mind, and 2 years later, in January 2010, I started working again on the project with a new team, a new technology, a new approach.
Why did we fail? The road has been VERY rocky. It was a first time for us, so we made our good share of mistakes.
We are two founders (business oriented). In a very short time, we ended up 6 people with various business areas of expertise (web marketing, communication, finance, legal, etc.) but no tech person. Wrong. Each one of my co-founders was a kick ass guy/girl in their own area of expertise but every tech/web startup needs a tech person. This tech person is actually the core of any startup, everyone else is expendable (early stage).
Mistake #1: Assemble a small (2, 3) team. Get a tech co-founder.
At some point, we reached an almost go-live product. But after showing it to a few VCs, we realized we missed some features to make it truly
social. Instead of releasing the beta, we decided to create the v2 of the product. Wrong. We will never finish this v2 (lack of money, slowly dying motivation). As Reid Hoffman said: “If you’re not somewhat embarrassed by your 1.0 product launch, then you’ve released too late
Lesson #2: Get a product out the door asap!
- Problem 3: Get down to business – full time
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.
Lesson #3: If you’re serious about your startup, get serious.
- Problem 4: Be careful who you partner with
The initial SubMate team included a colleague, my best friend, my roommate and my girlfriend. Yeah, I know: wrong. Please don’t laugh. I was young and ingenuous (read: dumb). I loved them very much, and they were amazing at what they did. However, never EVER do that. In the end, I almost lost my best friend, didn’t speak to my roommate for 2 months, almost broke up with my girlfriend. Bad… If you do it, be prepared for this. It can work well, but most likely won’t.
Lesson #4: Avoid teaming up with people that are close to you.
- Problem 5: Don’t raise money before product
We had the chance to find great seed investors who trusted us. We raised a small round to get started, with only a business plan. On the said business plan, SubMate was a killer idea. Some people say you should raise as soon as possible, I don’t. Get a product out the door. Get some user feedback. Be hungry. Then raise some money.
Lesson #5: Postpone your seed round until you have a product.
- Problem 6: Don’t waste time
It took us 24 months to fail. 2 years. That’s a life time in web standards ;) We should have launched something (even ugly) in the first 6 months, and pulled the plug after 12 months. Don’t waste time and money on a long lasting project if you don’t see the end of the tunnel. Everything always takes longer than expected, so give yourself some slack. But still, we should have stopped earlier and given (some) money back to investors. Release early, release often
Lesson #6: Give yourself a year to get somewhere, otherwise move on.
I could go on on other issues – I actually have a detailed chronological list of the SubMate v1 timeline. But this list shows you the biggest mistakes. I hope I will never make those mistakes again, and hope it might help others to avoid them as well.
Laurent Kretz is a Paris-based entrepreneur working on SubMate, a social commuting platform about to launch in Paris, New York and London. Before that, while living in New York, he launched CabEasy, a cab-sharing application. You can follow him on twitter or subscribe to his blog.