Failure – Part 1
I decided to write a 2 part post on the subject of failure. This week’s post is the story of the abysmal failure of my first business venture, whereas next week I’ll outline some of my thoughts on success and failure in general terms. Here goes nothing…
If you look at my LinkedIn profile, you will see that I have been operating WhatIsOnPEI.com for over 5 years. However, this would be a false representation of how it has actually performed. This could be viewed as a flop, a failure, a loser… but, this was my first IT venture, and I have learned a lot from the experience:
WhatIsOnPEI.com had a promising start. For my entrepreneurship project at UPEI School of Business, we had 4 hours to start a mini-venture and raise as much money as possible. It began as a simple idea: an Online Business Directory for PEI. My group went around Charlottetown for 4 hours with a 1 pager asking companies for $100 to receive a webpage listing on our website for one year. Within the morning, we made $1,500 which was UPEI’s record at the time. My professor (being a serial entrepreneur himself) was very excited about the project and helped me launch the project into an actual company. I was in my final year looking for a marketing position, so I figured I may as well launch my own business as I would employ myself, work in marketing, and grow my business network.
I was accepted into the Self-Employment Program offered by Service Canada (now Skills PEI), PEI Business Development (now Innovation PEI), and Career Development Services. This was key as it allowed me to collect a paycheque for a full year as I worked on my business. I’d recommend this program to anyone interested in starting a business as it helps to keep the lights on while you reinvest company revenue into your business.
I had some great mentors as I was getting going, but for the most part I was flying by the seat of my pants. Every aspect of the business I learned as I went along (sales, IT, human resources, bookkeeping, etc). Sure, I had a Bachelor of Business Administration, but a university curriculum doesn’t necessarily cover the knowledge needed for a bootstrapping entrepreneur.
Where did it go wrong? Well, I made some good decisions, but I also made some bad decisions. I’ve learned from my bad decisions to ensure the next endeavour runs more smoothly. The problem that killed me was IT, however now I know a lot more about software development than I did when I started out.
Other major learning lessons (these are all cliché but it’s valuable):
Finances: ensure accounting is up-to-date and review often. Gut decisions can lead you astray, check the numbers when making key financial decisions.
Human Resources: hire slow/fire fast. Outsourcing to freelancers/companies can end up being cheaper, easier, and produce a better result.
Sales: under-promise and over-deliver. It’s ok if someone says “no”, just keep going.
Product Development: everything always takes longer than you anticipate
“You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.” – Johnny Cash
Starting my own business had many challenges, and I had to give up a lot of my personal life in order to get pertinent work done, attend networking events to promote my company, and had lots of stress to stay above water with cash flow (the ol’ payroll sweats). However, I believe that the experience helped me in many ways. I grew a great network of business contacts, I learned many areas of business that I didn’t pay attention to in school, I challenged myself in ways I wouldn’t have imagined and when looking back I am proud of many things that I’ve accomplished.
With WhatIsOnPEI.com, I had a really hard time letting go because I sunk so much time and money into it that I wanted to see it succeed. I overcame the IT challenges that the website initially had, and I had a good social media following, but I knew that I didn’t have the time to give it the proper attention day-to-day, so I had tried to find others to partner with that would take over the daily management. I tried this for a couple of years but it didn’t end up working. I decided to be at peace with letting go of this business that has been dying a slow death waiting on the shelf. Everyone else has moved on, but it is finally time for me to do the same. By letting go of this baggage, I will be free of that negative energy and will transform that into positive energy towards building something even greater.