Recommended Readings #9 – Postmortems

With the increasing portrayal of startups in the mainstream media from Social Network to Silicon Valley tv series, getting into startup is probably the coolest things to do nowadays. The possibility of a billion dollar valuation plus the extravagant job perks , whats not to like ?.

However, beneath its shiny promises, startup had 90 percent failure rates. Highly successful startups such as Facebook, Twitter, AirBnB are the exception not the rule. In fact, startup who achieve that kind of success were called unicorns because of the near-fictional occurrence. With that kind of rate, failure in startups is expected rather than something to be shameful of.

Recommended Readings 9 - Postmortem

In this edition of RR, i recommend several articles where founders shared lesson-learned from fail startups which are commonly known as postmortems. Straight from the mind of battle-scarred founders, postmortem served as both knowledge and reality check for everyone who wants to start their own ventures.

Sonar – Brett Martin

Sonar was a location based mobile apps to  inform you when your social media friends is in the same room. It was the finalist of 2011 TechCrunch disrupt and managed to get 2 million USD investment yet it failed due to lack of users.

My highlight is the part on listening to customer feedbacks. Brett and his team spent effort to develop features that requested by “wanted to be” users while ignoring actual user behaviour. Critical mistake which probably costed them their subscriber growth.

“I would use your product if only you had X feature” is a dangerous signal to follow

Formspring – Cap Watkins

Formspring was Q&A site where users can ask each others questions, similar concept with Reddit’s Ask Me Anything. Launched in 2009, it achieved almost 20 million user base and raised USD 14 million in venture capital. As the first mover in this space, Formspring was soon to be competed with copycats such as which have very similar UI’s. Ironically, today is still exist will Formspring collapsed in 2013.

In the post mortem, Cap Watkins highlighted how Formspring mismanage the issue of anonymous posting. Anonymity, the intended core feature of Formspring, had invited a lot of abusive contents and cyber bullying in the sites.

We spent a lot of time on anonymity. It was our sacred cow. Looking back, we should have spent that time finding ways to gracefully degrade that feature instead of finding ways to keep it alive

Everpix – Casey Newton

This is a bit different from the other two. The postmortem was not written by the founder or the startup team but rather a feature in the famous tech blog, The Verge.

Having a great product apparently not a guarantee to be a successful tech startup. Everpix was a cloud based photo sharing services founded by Pierre Olivier Latour, experts on motion graphics while also a serial entrepreneur. Together with two other collaborators, Latour managed to develop Everpix to be one of the best solution for managing extensive photo library. Sadly, development and operating cost had outgrown Everpix revenue trajectory. It was closed in 2013 albeit having 7000 paid users, 4.5 stars rating in appstore and 12 percent conversion rate.

The founders acknowledge they made mistakes along the way. They spent too much time on the product and not enough time on growth and distribution. The first pitch deck they put together for investors was mediocre. They began marketing too late.

Gowalla – Josh Williams

Gowalla is a location based social network. Their self-proclaimed mission was to enable people to see the world through the eyes of their friends. It was famous for its public rivalry with another giant in the location based service, Foursquare.  Both of the services went head to head in a race of check ins in SXSW conference 2010. Foursquare won the battle and even though Gowalla had better design, their growth slowly dwindling down and at the end Gowalla story was closed with an acquisition by  Facebook in 2011.

In the postmortem, Josh Williams wrote a very interesting points regarding their battle with Foursquare. While Gowalla were involved in the fierce battle of check ins, another startup has develop much better way to execute their mission. In the midst battle with Foursquare, Gowalla not only lose the check in number but also their whole reason why they exist at the first place.

Listen to your users more than the press. Don’t get sucked into the gravity hole between you and your competition. Ruthlessly run your own path, not someone else’s.

For more awesome postmortems article, check out this great list compiled by ProductHunt founder, Ryan Hoover. Have other suggestion for a great readings on this topic ? drop the link in the comment and lets discuss

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