Two years ago I started building something that I had a lot of passion about. I felt that the small business/startup scene in Halifax was lacking something. I believed that there were opportunities being missed by existing organizations, despite their best efforts and intentions and that I could help create something better. I found some likeminded individuals, by chance and random conversation, and Startacus HQ was born. And now it’s dead.

And it should have died. Any pet or plant owner will tell you that care and feeding of your dependent will determine it’s success. So I’d like to take this time to outline every single mistake I made with SHQ so that you don’t make the same mistakes. There is much debate over whether failing is an effective way to learn. I hope it is because if so, this post will teach me and you an awful lot. 

Deadlines

At various stages of our venture, there were warning signs that we were not all on the same page. Missing self-imposed deadlines and failing to complete simple tasks seemed like pretty small potatoes but when you add up all of those things you’re left with an understanding that some of your compadres may be less willing to roll up their sleeves than you wish. They’re not lazy and they are smart and they’re not bad people, they just don’t have the same hustle and grind mentality that is necessary to succeed. Since we were all working on the project on a part time basis as we dealt with other responsibilities, I didn’t think much of it and passed it off as something that would get better. It didn’t. It got worse. When you don’t prune and weed your garden, pretty soon, all you have are weeds and that was the case with SHQ. Failure to meet small deadlines meant failure to meet large deadlines and an inability to complete simple tasks turned into failing to meet important ones. 

Duplication

Our original team was comprised of myself and three international business grads. Three. Same classes. Same (mostly) focus. Same everything. I overlooked this flaw, imagining that as we moved forward, each member would be able to ease into their respective roles and focus on their sphere of influence but this didn’t happen. Differentiating tasks amongst team members began to seem arbitrary and this meant that the vision of what we were going to accomplish and how we were going to accomplish it became blurrier and blurrier. Looking back, roles should have been more clearly established and a smaller team should have been assembled.

Pivot
The following video is VERY not safe for work but if you’re a fan of HBO’s Silicon Valley, it is a perfect explanation of the impending doom that is, THE PIVOT.

In the course of the 8 months that we were ramping up to launch, we pivoted no less than three times. For those not familiar with the term pivot, it means to change your primary focus from one task to another. It’s when a company goes from a software development company to a mobile marketing company, or from a book publishing company to a media storage company. Whatever the case, it involves a fundamental change of what the focus of your business is. It has worked for a number of companies over the years. Instagram, Facebook, Google. Each of these companies has pivoted in some way over the years in order to refocus. But pivoting this many times before you ever get to market is not ideal. We went from a community based startup “club” to a web based resource sharing company to an in person consulting firm, with a couple of minor stops in between. Our final finished project looked NOTHING like the initial mission statement and brainstorming sessions. It caused one member to leave because they wanted the initial project to be the focus and honestly, so did I. I had significantly less interest in these new directions but…I had a… team. I had other people I could rely on. Therein lay much of the problem. I was unwilling to take the whole thing on myself. I should have. It’s what I wanted to do. I had the time. I had the skill set. I had the motivation. But like many, I was afraid to be the big show. The idea of the whole thing being on me was super exciting and super terrifying. But rather than go out on my own after my dream I agreed to pivot, MULTIPLE times into something that I had no legitimate interest in building.

Cannibalism

One of the reasons that I had no interest in developing a small business consulting company that helped startups get started was that OneRedCat already did that. I’d been helping small businesses with marketing, business plans, web and social media planning and organizational development for several years. Every single client that SHQ would acquire would be a client that OneRedCat could have serviced in its existing form except instead of splitting the pot 4 ways, I would have split the profits with me, myself and I. But I was so overwhelmed and excited at the idea that I was building something with really cool people that I ignored this concept entirely.

Client Acquisition (Or Lack Thereof)

StartacusHQ never had a single paying customer. Not one. I’m not saying we never reached profitability or that our earnings projections were greater than our actual sales. I’m saying that no one ever paid StartacusHQ for services rendered. Why is this not at the top of the list of reasons why we failed? Because failing to monetize over a period of time is not a kiss of death in the startup industry, especially in our particular situation where overhead costs were virtually nil. The problem with our client acquisition model was that I took someone’s word that they had people beating down their door for a service like we were offering. “4-5 companies a week looking for exactly what we’re offering” turned into zero paying customers, 6 months after launch. How does that happen? We put zero time, effort and money into client acquisition because I believed someone that they had the clients lined up. I should have figured it out 2 weeks in. There were whispers of potential projects, but then nothing. Again, I was excited and just thought that they were getting their ducks in a row. There were no ducks. There was no row.

Shared Workload

When we launched StartacusHQ, we talked a lot about content. We wanted to provide our followers with a steady stream of insightful posts that focused on exactly the sort of growing pains they were experiencing. We agreed on a posting schedule that meant each member of the team was responsible for 1 300-600 word post per month. 1. 1. Three weeks in I had posted 3 articles because the rest of the team was “super busy”. We then came to the conclusion that since I was the most interest writer on the team, I would write a weekly post and the rest of the team would simply share and promote that content across their networks. Several more posts with no traction and no sharing led me to finally doubt that this project was going anywhere.So I walked. I gave the team one final chance to pull together with a quick “are you in or are you out” email and I got back an offer to have coffee and “talk about a lot of things”. I was done talking. I had wasted a couple years and a minor investment on a project that never saw a single person helped. That was the sad part for me. I started on this project because I want to help people realize their entrepreneurial dreams by pouring all my love and knowledge into making them successful. Instead I had a logo and a website. So what’s next?Well, I’m not done. I continue to use OneRedCat to help people to build their dreams. I’ve bene doing a lot of writing, a lot of reading and a lot of thinking and I’ve come up with 3 takeaways form  the StartacusHQ experiment.

  1. Your first impression is probably right. Believe your gut.
  2. Don’t put any percentage of yourself into something you’re not 100% into.
  3. Walk away quickly and decisively from things that aren’t working.


And if you ever need help getting off the ground, getting to the next level or getting your ducks in a row, all you have to do is ask.