Summing up the last three years of my (company’s) life into one post is challenging. This should’ve been written months ago, but I was in mourning and far too confused to know where to begin.
Fact is, I’ve never failed at anything really. I’ve always been a few years ahead, a few jobs ahead, a few bottles ahead (just kidding?). I’ve had this magic wand which could turn dust to gold and it’s never let me down. Three years ago when I gave up my glamorous career and emptied my savings to take a leap of faith, I was unstoppable. Failure was not an option. And yet here I am. What went wrong?
You are on the fastest route. Turn left. In twenty feet, make a U-turn. Make a U-turn. Make a U-turn. Recalculating…
I decided to create something from nothing, and I did it. I convinced some of the most successful people in the world to invest in Spinvite and invest in me. My magic wand was working wonderfully as usual, and then things took a turn.
I hired outside contractors to develop my product. I like to compare contracting work to relationships. You know when you find someone you really like and they tell you they really like you too, but aren’t looking for anything serious? That is a contractor. No matter the contracts, no matter the enthusiastic conversations, an outside contractor gives zero shits about your product. There is a reason they are not employed by an actual company – they want the fast, easy money, without the commitment, resulting in you finally realizing you’ve wasted months / years of your (company’s) life on jack shit.
What I really needed was an in-house developer (someone permanently employed by the company) – or better yet, a co-founder. These are much more difficult to find, but once you do find them, you set yourself in an entirely different realm. Not that I’d know – I ran out of time and money before I could ever get one.
The biggest upside to an in-house developer is that in the constantly changing app world, you need a reliable employee who can keep up. A developer working for the company believes in the product just as much as you do, and will do anything to make the product serve its purpose. They aren’t just a robot building a big red block – they see the big red block and build it up as a flawless foundation which can be easily adjusted and improved upon.
Our timeline from start to finish missed a few major steps. The most important in those steps was the testing and correction phase of the product. “The Lean Startup” lays out exactly how to build a new product and ensure its success – starting with an incredibly raw version of a product and then through endless testing and correction, developing it based on user reaction.
Instead, we built a product that looked nice, did some testing and proved that other people thought it looked nice, spent a shit ton of money getting it built, and then were out of money before the testing could even really take off. The investors were no longer interested at this point since it had taken so long and was still so far from where it needed to be. The whole process looked something like this:
Sketches drawn up – DONE!
Prototype drafted – DONE!
Alpha built – DONE!
Beta built – DONE!
Seed round of Investors -DONE!
(Second beta built – Never done)
(Third beta built – Never done)
(Fourth beta built – Never done)
(One-hundred and twenty-third beta built – Definitely never done)
App live on App Store – Somehow done
(Continuous updates and fixes – Never done)
Series A Investors – Not even close
If there was any way possible to prevent Spinvite’s demise, I did it. I emailed every last contact who could help. I scoped out and hunted down investors all over the US. I even researched selling a kidney to pay for our new designs, but it turns out it’s only legal in some deserted warehouses in Mexico, and even then I’d still be short a few grand.
The fumbles in execution had finally caught up with me. New investors were turning me down left right and center, and the funds in both my business and personal accounts had been empty for months. My optimistic mentality had entirely diminished and I was quickly falling into a very, very dark place. It seemed to be the end of Spinvite but since “failure is not an option” I couldn’t shut it down. I was determined to fix the unfixable.
Sorry Miss, This Card Also Declined
In order for me to explain an important part of the temporary insanity that ensued, you need to understand that I can fix anything. Be it a broken television or a broken phone server, I will figure out why it’s not working and fix it.
My company had caved and I was unable to fix it, therefore there had to be something wrong with me. Maybe if I could figure out what was wrong with me, I could turn everything around. But what was wrong with me? Was I too cocky? Was I too humble? Was I too aggressive in my offers? Was I too weak in my offers? Was I a liar? Was I too honest?
In tech, when you don’t know how to fix something, you Google it. And so I tried. I Googled “Startup Founder Depression”. I Googled “How To Be A CEO”. I Googled “Fucking fuck” and about 850 other things along the same line. Nothing worked. I couldn’t figure out how to fix myself.
I stayed up countless nights sketching things on blackboards trying to solve the riddle of my company’s demise, and more importantly – my own. When I still couldn’t sleep I’d go running at odd hours of the night for miles and miles until my legs were numb.
During the occasional spurts of time when I wasn’t stuck in a paradox of frantically trying to slow my mind down, I was packing up my glamorous apartment and moving onto a friend’s couch. Occasionally I’d get out of the house and walk over to the nearest bar to drink by myself until all my cigarettes were gone and all my cards declined.
One night as I sat alone finishing my fourth drink on the grungy patio of a cheap dive bar in Burbank I heard the ding on my phone of an email coming through. With one eye open I looked down to see an email from my main investor with the subject line “What is happening with Spinvite? Are you okay?” I quickly locked the screen and lit another cigarette. I couldn’t answer his questions because the true answer to both was “I don’t know”, and those three words were foolishly not a part of my vocabulary.
What made it all worse was that I’d never felt any of this before. Sure I’d been sad before. One time my rabbit ran away. But this was an experience I’d never come anywhere close to emotionally, and because I’d never been there, I had no idea how to get myself out.
Failure is Bullshit.
I don’t really know the exact moment when everything made sense, but I do know how it happened.
I realized I hadn’t failed.
I took a few wrong turns with Spinvite which ultimately lead to the inability to keep its doors open anymore, but it was okay to call it quits. It was okay that it couldn’t be fixed. And there was nothing wrong with me. But how did I feel this relief? Wasn’t I still a failure?
The greatest lesson I’ve learned in the past four years is that “fail”, “failure”, “failing” are bullshit words used by cynical observers to make creative types feel shitty about themselves when a project comes to an end.
You can’t fail at creating something. If you never create anything to begin with, I guess that would be a failure. But what you’ve created you can do with as you fucking please. Creative types will never stop creating. And every project they “fail at” helps them create something better the next time.
I swore so much in the above paragraph because it was my complete misconception for the above that sent me to hell and kept me stuck there for far too many months, and if there’s a way these words can keep someone else from ever going there, then fuckin’ A read it it twenty more times.
When I first started Spinvite, failure wasn’t an option. But if failure isn’t an option, then by definition you limit the things you allow yourself to do. In the end of it all, I had a great idea, it didn’t work out, I fell in a rut, and then I realized that not trying is much, much, much worse than “failing”.
Four years of running my own company gave me skills I’d never have attained through books or seminars. The experience I gained in execution, implementation, business, and fundraising are tools I’ll use in every future company. I emerged much stronger and wiser and wouldn’t change a single part of that experience for anything.
As for what’s next, I’m currently doing random projects all over the grid while I get the planning for my next company going. If it sticks you’ll hear about it. If not, you’ll probably still hear about it.
Thanks to everyone who believed in me and supported Spinvite from the first sketch. Specifically: Tracy, Mark, Tim C, my incredible investors, and every entrepreneur and friend who picked up the phone when I needed some guidance. I might not be great at telling you these things in person, but I’d never have gotten as far as I did without all of your belief, support, investments, and encouragement and I can’t put into words how much that will always mean to me.