Biggest fuck up?
I won’t be surprised if the biggest fuck-up is yet to happen, as I have had multiple failures since I founded my first tech company in 2004.
In some respect, failures define who you are. Maybe I can share the story of what happened with my first tech company. Immediately after finishing my Executive MBA at Manchester Business School, I joined a tech startup as an investor employee, investing £50k into the business.
Once joined, and just before investing the cash, I found out that the business had a massive black hole. I withheld my investment, and so did others who joined with me, resulting in the company going into voluntary liquidation.
Then I decided I could refine the concept and build a tech startup. How wrong I was.
I lost a bigger fortune over the next 2 years, making mistake after mistake, including hiring another MBA for sales, who couldn’t even secure a single sales meeting. Another fuck up was outsourcing the design and build of the product to the same company. After many attempts and spending my life savings, my partner acknowledged their inability to deliver. By then, I had negotiated a £250k debt finance to take the company forward but realised it was better to call it a day than go through the same pain again.
After two years of hard work and multiple setbacks, I accepted defeat. Out of this mess came some positives:
- Finding the co-founder, a CEO of a competitor of my failed startup for my next startup, edocr.com, which also had its share of cockups, but ended with a successful Exit in 2015.
- Went on to build Manchester’s tech ecosystem through Northern Startup 2.0, which eventually became Techcelerate (2006 to 2013).
- Met another CEO of a competitor of my failed startup who has thrown multiple lifelines to me over the years.
I wonder what would have happened if I joined another startup instead of trying to set up my own without any real startup experience. Hey, I have no regrets!
Perhaps I can highlight a recent story of misunderstanding. During Covid19, I came up with the idea to build a volunteer marketplace called Furloughed.life. I posted on two forums asking if there were any WordPress developers who could volunteer on the project.
This pissed off the developer community of Manchester, and they started a campaign to take us down, me in particular, including threats. They never truly took time to understand what I was doing but simply saw it as a threat to their way of life. Some of the people who I thought were friends were also against me. They really showed their true feelings – it probably gave them a chance to get their true feelings out.
My fellow co-founders helped me overcome a few days of anger and frustration. We kept soldering on, and guess what, we are making real positive changes to people’s lives. At the end of the day, that’s what matters. I can’t help everyone. But I can help some. I want to focus on them and ignore the haters and naysayers! Life is short, even if I do want to live up to 100 and hopefully beat my grandfather.
If you are a young whippersnapper, don’t jump into building a tech company. Be patient. Join a startup or two. Learn everything you can. Find a problem you have and are passionate about.
Learn, and go deep into understanding the problem better than anyone else who is trying to solve the same problem. Build a network. Only then start to venture out on your own, including building a team.
Then build your pre-investment team by issuing share options. Don’t bother pitching to investors until you have a product and early traction with a few customers. You’ll have a much higher chance of success. Don’t be afraid to fail, but don’t build failure into your strategy.