The StartUp failed but here is what I learnt

About a year ago we won our place on the WayraUnltd accelerator. I announced on live stream how I was going to quit my day job and I officially started my #startupkid journey. Sadly that chapter has come to an end.

In April we launched the beta version of Up. We tested it and started to refine it using all the feedback we got from our users and started to work on Version 2. We developed wireframes, thought about user journeys, knew exactly what we had to do to finally hit a business pain-point and create a mass scale product that would really solve the paper based appraisal issue. It was going to be a merger of Discoverabels and V.1 of Up, we finally felt on track and just as we were about to press the develop button to get Version 2 into production, I caught out a huge admin mistake: PAYE Tax. The taxman had never been paid despite all of us being on payroll. It was something that just slipped through the fingers of our CEO Eugenie and she has openly admitted and blogged about her mistake here. This meant that the runaway we had to keep going till September to launch Version 2 had to go to the Queen and all of a sudden everything we had been working for had fallen through. Morale and energy was low and a decision was made that it was time to end this journey and pay the bill. It was time to pull the plug and although the plug has been pulled it’s not all doom and gloom. We do have interest in turning the product into a white-label solution with a couple of organisations so something will come out of the hard work we have put in but the big vision is no more.

So a huge admin mistake meant the journey got cut shorter than expected. The hard truth is however it prob would have ended eventually because hindsight is a beautiful thing and now looking back we did make plenty of mistakes so here are my thoughts on everything I’ve learned and how best for you to avoid making the mistakes we did.

1. Explore the potential fully

We entered Wayra Unltd with Discoverables. An online platform to help young people discover their strengths and skills but left with a HR tool to help track young employees soft skills. The ethos was the same only we didn’t ever really explore the potential of Discoverables. One of the first reasons was that the platform was not built for scaling so either way we’d have to start again. Now we were in an accelerator and we wanted to be revenue generating by the time we left. This pressure led us to think that the school market won’t be worth exploring because due to the academic year, it’ll be a rather slow burner so targeting businesses made more sense. In all honesty we didn’t have the resources and budget to really build out Discoverables the we we initially visioned but we did have interest from schools who were interested in how you can track soft skills. We could have built a stripped back version of Discoverables with the admin dashboard for schools to track softskills and students to document their achievements under the skills we used. Essentially it would have been Up but the brand could have stayed and all the lead generation we had done could have been followed up and closed into sales.

2. Market: Ideally start a business in a market you know well

Our team had knowledge of the Education sector really well from schools to youth organisations. This was our bread and butter. When we pivoted we ended up picking businesses, a market we didn’t know so well and one we lacked connections in. Before we knew it we had created a HR product for the HR market and not with the right connections in it.  If you know the market, you also have the right connections to actually test and refine a product with real businesses. If you hustle the right way, you can sometimes even make sales before you even build your product. This kills 2 birds with one stone, not only do you get to refine your product with real life customers but you can actually explore with them the pain point they feel and build your business around that rather than creating a novelty product that is nice to have but won’t get you far.

3. Product, User Experience and Outsourcing help.

Product however is what people will buy but we did lack some major skills in our team around product. We ended up outsourcing our design and front end development work to Digital Agency in the UK. This was very expensive and although we ended up with a brand, colours and icons that really made our product stand out our user experience for desktop wasn’t so great. We built mobile first which had a great user experience from a mobile device only most our users were accessing the product from the desktop which we didn’t build for. When drawing up a user-experience literally draw and think about every page and interaction and use apps like pop.app to bring it all together and then you can also draw up wireframes yourself too using a variety of tools out there.

 

When we started to work on version 2, we still needed to outsource help but this time we were much more stingy with our budget. The world is your talent pool so don’t be afraid to use it. With version 2, we looked up designers, UX experts on places like dribble and we pretty much managed to get a quote on the work for half the price of an agency. Also Agencies are likely to be balancing your work with other clients, try get a freelancer who can dedicate a significant amount of time to just you, this is essential when you got a tight time frame.

4.  Admin and Finance: 

We were great visionaries and dreamers but a business is prob 20% Vision and 80% admin. Get Admin in order from day one. When setting up a company, think about who you want to be on the initial directors board, how many shares you want to allocate initially and set up vesting options. It might not seem important now but when you get to the investment stage this stuff really matters. If admin is not your strongpoint then find out who loves details in your team and delegate this stuff to them. It’s important things don’t slip through the net. However if it’s a very small team do you really need to take on the responsibility of PAYE? Get your staff to invoice you and let them sort out their own tax affairs and it might be nice to give them the illusion of security but as a CEO you already have a lot to deal with, don’t create extra work for yourself if you don’t have too.

But if you do want to do things properly and set up PAYE then stay ontop of it.  Get a good accountant or book-keeper and make sure they can access the bank account and can make payments for you. If you are responsible for PAYE etc then either make sure you pay the tax man every month and if it’s set up quarterly then pay that money into a separate account so you don’t overspend.

Cashflow is king so get your head around business basics.

5. Focus:

Now there is no secret that our CEO was juggling a charity and a startup but when you have full time staff you need to focus on the business or hire someone to focus for you. There were times when we were not as agile as we could be because decisions were being made slowly due to the fact we just could not coordinate our diaries. This led to lots of time wasted. If your team is focussing on getting the product right then you need to be out there meeting investors and trying to find the money to keep them going, this is a slow process and very time-consuming so you need to be focussed on a goal and not have too many.

Final words:

I’ve had quite the journey over the last year and these are only a couple of the lessons I’ve learned. Despite all the frustrations and the business heartbreak I’m so grateful to God and everyone I’ve met for the experience I gained at such a young age. I now know so much about businesses, the tech world and I’ll be sure never to make the same mistakes again if/when I start my next business. By being in the shadow of a CEO i’ve learned so much and if i’m honest with you I’m not sure I want that level of responsibility and admire everyone that does but saying that I struggle to tame the fire in me so I do see myself returning to the business world eventually let that be a one-man band or something more.

What is next for the #startupkid? Well I’ve got a great role lined up in marketing at a fast-growth tech company that I’m excited to join. I’m moving on from a startup to a scale up and I’m excited about what I’ll learn there, i’m also hoping to take the little concept of #startupkid to the next level so watch this space!

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