Rarely is there a single root cause for a failed startup. Instead, there’s a multitude of decisions and actions that intertwine and cascade to ultimately bring a startup towards success or failure. That’s what I learned building my startup, Body Boss Fitness, with three of my friends several years ago. We ultimately “failed.” However, we learned a lot through failure. So much so, that I wanted to share our experiences (through a book, Postmortem of a Failed Startup: Lessons for Success) for Hype readers.
Starting with a Dream
Body Boss was an application that helped coaches and trainers easily track the workout performance of their players. The product was based on a concept of motivation through team competition whereby players could see each other and compete via the app’s Leaderboard. Meanwhile, coaches could quickly identify those who needed special attention.
We incorporated the company in 2012 and launched in January 2013. But 16 months later, we “zombified” Body Boss – that is, we stopped putting resources into marketing and product development. We officially shut down August 2015. We had 12 paying customers from high schools to colleges and professional organizations including an NFL team.
From the outside, we were doing well. But internally, we were fighting tremendous battles.
Lessons… from Cradle to Grave
Some of the major lessons from Body Boss stem from the very beginning – focusing on solving a real problem. For us, we started Body Boss as a consumer app, but quickly pivoted towards a B2B model, selling to institutional strength and conditioning coaches after we looked at the competitive landscape in the consumer market. However, none of us four co-founders were professional strength coaches.
Given our lack of experience in the industry, we only hypothesized what their pains were, and then with our first-time entrepreneurial enthusiasm, went straight into build-mode. This presented some major road blocks and implications down the line from sales to product focus. It’s amazing how little ripples can create giant waves over time.
As first-time entrepreneurs, we really wanted to build Rome in a day. Well, actually, not so much a day as much as we just wanted to build Rome before any customers were ever in town. That presented lots of complexities technically and in our user experience. We built a lot of features that weren’t useful, and were missing features that fundamental to how strength coaches operated. (Remember: we had very little experience in the professional industry.)
The implications of a lack of industry-specific knowledge and lack of product-market fit would create difficulties in sales – the lifeblood of any company. As the head of business development (sales/ growth), I couldn’t close enough deals to keep ourselves energized to continue fighting the good fight.
What I learned:
- Customer discovery and working with customer-partners upfront ensures the right product is built.
- Start out focused in both the value offered and the product that delivers the value. This allows for feedback early and often while minimizing waste.
- Sales are hard. Work with customers early with a focused value and product, so customers can see value quicker. Then, they can pull you in the right direction.
- It comes down to the team. Every founding team will hit walls and hurdles. The successful teams will continue to knock down walls to find the right solution.
- Entrepreneurs can easily fall into states of despair, even with a team. It’s already an uphill battle as a startup, so fighting battles alone (internal and external) can make that much harder. Open up. Reach out for help and mentorship.
Why Celebrate Failure
I decided to write a book to share details and stories (anecdotes and interactions with customers) that I believe will be highly intriguing and thought-provoking for lots of different readers. However, my hope is to really educate first-time entrepreneurs, those looking to get into entrepreneurship and startups, and even those in the general innovative role in larger corporations.
Looking back at the experience, I really appreciate the failure. I’m proud, too, of what we were able to achieve. We had coaches and industry behemoths referring coaches to us. We had players proclaiming they were “number 1” on the leaderboard in school hallways. It was exciting.
But in the end, we ended Body Boss. We didn’t reach “commercial success”, and it was a really humbling experience to learn from. In some ways, I see our experience as a rite of passage for us as entrepreneurs to learn from and test our appetite for more. I do think we can learn more from failure than success. We can take a lot of these learned concepts and adapt them to industries, job functions, and our personal lives.
I have equal parts excitement and anxiety sharing the book at the moment. It’s a highly revealing book placing great emphasis on the details of our missteps. There are many books on success, and when others discuss failure, it’s focused in a singular way. I wanted Postmortem of a Failed Startup to be more and to do more for readers. I think I’ve achieved that, but time will tell as more entrepreneurs read the book and share their stories…
You can get a copy of the ebook available on any device via the Kindle App on Amazon. It’s a good two-hour read, and since it’s for entrepreneurs, available for the price of a few Ramen.