Spinvite: The Party’s Over – A Postmortem

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.

 

Hello, Goodbye

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.

Love,

Audrey

Sometimes We Make Misteaks

britney-spears-shaves-her-head-03 Just over two years ago I left my job at Netflix to pursue my tech startup dream.  Why?  Because I loved the idea of emptying all of my accounts and throwing my career down the drain for a product that had less odds of succeeding than the Jets do of winning the Super Bowl.  Who wouldn’t?  My mother was convinced I was on ALL of the drugs.

Over the past two years I’ve learned more about running a tech startup than I’d ever imagined and I’ve barely begun.  Ah the good old ignorant days when I thought “oh you just have an app idea and then get an investor and a developer and they make it and then it goes viral!”  AWW SO CUTE BUT NO, HONEY.

I want to lay out the path that I chose to run my tech startup and also lay out some of the biggest mistakes I made, in hopes that maybe someone reading this will learn from my mistakes.

So how did I start?  Read my previous article – app idea, research competitors, sketch screens, design prototype, pay average developer a tiny amount to build a crappy but workable first version.  And then?

Once I had an MVP (minimum viable product – see http://theleanstartup.com/principles), I could start testing my theories with actual customers to prove the product was in fact needed and wanted, and could pinpoint trouble spots that would need tweaking.  I tested the app for a few months in Miami and collected all the research and evidence I would need to start taking investor meetings.

Here’s the most important piece of information I can give in regards to finding investors:  investors will not ever, ever, ever, ever invest in an idea.  They need to see proof.  Whether that proof is that you as the CEO have what it takes to make it happen (tech/business background, invested personal money, working full time on it, etc.) or proof that customers are using the product, they need proof.  Before you can show that, don’t even think about investors – you’re wasting your thoughts.

Now, just before I started taking investor meetings I went around to various founders and investors for advice.  The most common piece of advice I was given is that investors rarely ever invest in sole founders.  Investors want to see a team – whether that’s two co-founders or five co-founders, they want to see a team.  So, I went off to find a co-founder.  And I found one alright.  We started chatting on a co-founder matching site and met up later that week.  He came on board to help run the tech side of things with no paperwork or written agreements, and we were off!

In less than eight weeks I discovered that this guy was definitely not the co-founder I was looking for, and the legal battles began.  First major mistake.  I don’t advise anyone to ever at any point go “hunting” for a co-founder and agree to work with someone who’s a complete stranger.  A co-founder is like a marital partner, except your whole career is on the line with them, and they don’t make you breakfast.  We eventually settled and he was paid for his work, but it almost cost me everything.

At this point I decided I was done looking for a co-founder and was just going to try raising money as a sole founder.  I met my first investor in March 2015, and the other investors in the months following.  So, lesson number two – it’s not required that you have a minimum of two co-founders to get investors.  Yes it might make it easier, but if you already have a tech and business background and can prove to your investors that you have what it takes, screw desperately searching for co-founders just because that’s what’s “normal”.  I will say that I’m extremely envious of companies that have co-founders though – having a support system and other people to work alongside you?  Um, yahhh.  But if you don’t have any, it’s not the end of the world.

Once I got my first couple of investors I went looking for professional developers to build out a native version of the app.  First I tried one of those big online development firms that promised to do it in three weeks for almost no money.  Three weeks later they hadn’t even built the first screen and I fired them.

After that I found a local small development firm in LA and hired them to build it out.  They were much more expensive and said they would get it done in three months, but I trusted them.  For the most part they were great, except that it ended up taking a year instead of three months and cost four times the amount they estimated.  Wonderful.

My advice on hiring developers is to hire a full time developer that’s working for the company and has a vested interest in making sure the app is built fast and built well.  Outside contractors are being paid hourly or in segments and have no where near the same passion or commitment as someone who’s working for the company will have.  Had I done this in the beginning I would have saved almost a year of time and tens of thousands of dollars.

While the app was being built, I was still fundraising to pay for the development and other business costs.  Fundraising is brutal.  Don’t get me wrong I’m used to rejection – I’m 26 and still single after all.  But there are 1.5 million single guys in LA.  There are less than 200,000 qualified investors (I definitely just made that number up but I’m good at guessing) so mathematically speaking, rejection by an investor is much worse.

The funny thing I encountered with most investors is that they’d never reject me in person.  They’d commit to investing, shake my hand, ask for the paperwork, and then spend months telling me they’d do it “in a week or two”.  Mistake number 5,6,7 and 8 – don’t waste your time chasing investors who aren’t getting back to you.  Every investor in Spinvite signed the paperwork and transferred the money in less than a week after our meeting.  If they’re taking longer than that, toss them.  Investors will be around for the rest of your company’s existence and it’s important to have investors that believe in you and your product without a doubt.

Let’s see, other mistakes.  I ran out of money quite a few times.  Managing your finances, especially when you have a huge overhead, is one of the most (if not THE most) important part of a startup.  The good thing about living in LA and being broke is that you can just “eat” cayenne pepper and water for two weeks straight and tell everyone you’re on a cleanse and no one even assumes you’re actually broke.  But for real, I’ll never ignore the importance of budgets and financial planning again.

Ok that’s all for now – I’m hungry and I just heard my website is down.  I do want to note that I’m not trying to scare anyone off who wants to have a tech startup. It’s been the most brutal process of my life but if I had the chance I’d still do it all over again just the same.  Maybe not the cayenne and water part.

To all my fans out there (all three of you), I love you guys.

Want To Make Your Own App?

Spinvite IconIn March 2013, I had an idea for an app that I wanted to create. I only had one problem… I had NO clue where to go from there. Since March, I’ve taken it from a neat idea, to a fully developed cross-platformed app. My company is incorporated, fundraising has begun, and I’m officially a boss. (Self high-five). Launch date for the Spinvite App is January 15, 2014 – check it out here

Since transforming from an IT Technician at Netflix to the founder of a tech start-up, the question I’m most frequently asked is no longer “Can you ask Netflix to get ‘____’ movie?” – but is now pretty consistently “I have an idea for an app – want to hear it?”. To be honest, NO, I really don’t want to hear your app idea. But if the question were more along the lines of “I have an app idea – what steps do I take next to make it happen?”, I’d gladly sit and chat for a few hours.

So, I thought I’d write a simple little post to let everyone know how I got to where I am now. It took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears (literally), and founding a tech start-up is not a path for the weak at heart. It SUCKS. But it also rules. Anyways, here goes.

So you have an idea for an app. Get some pen and paper and start drawing out the screens. Look at similar apps and see how they function. Draw some more. Revise these until you have a good 10 pages of screens for this app, with button placement and basic design layout.

Your next step is to make an actual prototype on a computer. You don’t have to be a pro to do this. I used Keynotopia – an iPhone prototyping template that works in Keynote and Powerpoint. http://keynotopia.com/iphone-Prototyping/

It took me about 6 weeks to build the perfect prototype for my app. Keep in mind you need a screen for every button and need to be thinking with the exact functions of these buttons. It doesn’t have to be PERFECT, as your developer will help perfect parts of the UI/UX that you might not be thinking with, but you should be pretty confident that you could turn your prototype over to any developer and they’d know exactly how to configure it.

Now – if you’re really serious with continuing the process at this point, it’s time to find a developer. There are two ways you can build your app: Native for iOS & Android, or as a web app which will function on both. Generally speaking, web apps are cheaper and quicker to get built, however Native iOS & Android allow you to build more complicated features that may not be available with a web app. Your developer should be able to answer your questions in regards to what will / will not work with a web vs native app.

So how do you get the money to pay for the developers? Well, if you have a rich daddy, you’re set! If you’re like the rest of us, you’ll just have to become a prostitute. Just kidding, Mom.

There are tons of options for fundraising out there, and figuring out the right now for you isn’t something I can answer for you. I personally had a small amount of money saved up that I was able to use, and I was able to save quite a bit since I developed a large portion of it myself.

What I recommend is fundraising from friends and family. Getting a basic web app made that will function on both iOS and Android costs around $10G. Ask around, get a loan, sell your shares, and just do it if you’re serious. Don’t even try to go to angel investors with an idea – they want to see a working product! Some more good fundraising tips here: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/52718

Once you have a basic web app made, set a launch date, plan out well researched marketing plan, and get as many users as possible in the first week as you can. Set up investor meetings within a week after your launch and prove to them that you can get users, and you can get them fast, and ask for their money to help you get to your next milestone.

This is the most watered down post I think I could possibly do, but at least it’s a guideline. I’ll do some more on the subjects of fundraising, business incorporation, marketing, and web app vs native in the next upcoming weeks. Email me if you have questions and I’ll help wherever I can!

Also, I’m not on the cover of Forbes YET, so I’m not saying this is the perfect route to take or that I’m the expert. But it’s worked out great for me so far.

Also also also, I have some incredible business advisors and if you become really serious about your app start-up, I recommend you get a few. I’ve learned so much from those who’ve walked the path before me, and I’ve avoided quite a few disasters by listening to their advice.

K happy holidays BYE!

“Uhh… Why Isn’t My External Hard Drive Showing Up??”

Once a month I get a phone call from a “friend” (or someone I met once who never talks to me but recently discovered that I work in technology), asking me for a huge favor.  After a good ten minutes of small talk, in which they ask me all kinds of questions about how my life is going (while they are home sipping coffee with the phone on speaker… not listening to my responses whatsoever), they tell me they’re in dire need of help with something.  OMG failed hard drive?!

Now, seeing as I’m a lovely, caring person who enjoys helping people save money and time and also clearly likes fixing gadgets, I always offer to help. Nine out of ten times I can recover all the data, and people think I’m a genius… but I’m totally not.  I don’t even know how to hang curtain rods in my apartment without them collapsing on me three days later.  People are just ignorant of technology (preach it http://www.code.org).  The process is actually extremely simple.

Now it’s not that I don’t LOVE doing free favors for “friends” who will probably never speak to me again for another year until their friend’s drive fails – I totally do. I just thought I’d make a simple tutorial on recovering a failed hard drive. This way I can just refer people here and spend my day at the beach instead of at home working on recovering all those really neat short films you directed from your drive.

You’ll need a drive apricorn (a device to hook your bare drive up to your computer).  It’s $40 bucks and works 90 percent of the time so just buy it.  If you think $40 is too expensive, good luck taking your drive to a repair shop and getting charged between $500 – $5,000 dollars.  You can buy one here:   http://www.apricorn.com/products/notebook-hard-drive-upgrade-kits/drivewire-ide-pata-sata-to-usb-hdd-adapter.html

Remove the casing from your external drive so all that’s left is the bare drive itself.  Different brands have different enclosures, and most of them come off just by undoing the small screws under the rubber.  If you can’t figure out how to get it off, google the instructions for that brand and model – there are tons of tutorials out there.

Once you have the bare drive, connect it to the apricorn.  Plug the apricorn into your computer.  Fifty percent of the time, your computer will recognize the drive instantly and all of the data will be there.  If this is the case, it was just a malfunction with the enclosure that your drive was in before that was causing it to not show up when you plugged it into your computer

If your computer still doesn’t recognize the drive, open up Disk Utility (Go > Utilities > Disk Utility) and see if the drive shows up there.  The remaining 40 percent of the time it will, and you can open up the drive and transfer out the files that you need.

If the drive can’t be recognized even in Disk Utility, you are in the lonely 10 percent have a much more serious problem.  The drive will need to be sent to a recovery specialist who can open up the drive in a cleanroom environment to find out what has caused the fail and repair it.  This method is pretty expensive (like a few grand).  http://www.drivesaversdatarecovery.com/

If your drive is in this 10 percent and you really don’t have the money for this but want to try everything possible, try wrapping the drive in plastic-wrap (or any other waterproof wrapping) and putting it in the freezer for a few hours.  Then try reconnecting the drive with the apricorn.  Sounds weird, but it’s worked for me and you might be able to get it to come up long enough for you to at least get your data off of it.

Goooood luck!

Disclaimer:  I’m not responsible for anything bad that happens to you or your drive.  Also, friends, I love you and I will totally still help you unless you suck – then I won’t help you and I’ll refer you here.

 

iPad 2 vs. iPad 3 Predicitions

Whenever someone finds out that I work in technology, the next question they ask usually relates to whichever product Apple is about to update.  For example, “So are you going to get the iPad 3 when it comes out?”.

Personally I find these questions very cute.  Because in all honestly, the person asking them usually doesn’t give two shits about the iPad 3; they wouldn’t be able to tell me the difference between the iPad vs iPad 2, and in their head they’re really hoping I’ll have a simple answer and then quickly change the subject. And, knowing this useful information, I normally just reply that I don’t know much about the iPad 3 and change the subject.

But since it’s a question I get asked quite often, here is my knowledge of the iPad 2 vs. the soon to be released iPad 3, and my opinions in case anyone did actually have some interest.

There is little to no information or news from Apple directly in regards to the release date of the iPad 3.  However, with Apple obsessed fans around the world constantly on the lookout for shipments of parts, leaked photos and accidentally misplaced products, it looks like the iPad 3 may be released in early March.  Following the normal trends of Apple releases, they would release the iPhone 5 prior to releasing the iPad 3, but it looks like they may release both at the Apple conference predicted for March 7th.  Please don’t sue me, these are all rumors.

As for the difference between the iPad 2 and the soon to be released iPad 3, here’s an easy explanation.

iPad 2 display is 9.2″
iPad 3 display will be 7.85″

iPad 2 display 1024 x 768 resolution
iPad 3 Retina display 2048 x 1536 resolution (double the clarity, crispness, high-definition)

iPad 2 has an A5 Processor
iPad 3 will have A6 Processor (up to 30% more power)

iPad 2 starting cost $499
iPad 3 starting cost $569

Additional features for the iPad 3
– HDMI port (so you don’t need an adapter – you can just plug your HDMI cable straight into the iPad)
– SD Card slot (so you can take the SD Card from your camera and put it straight into your iPad to transfer photos and videos)

As a final closing, I would like to add that I do not work for Apple and cannot get you discounts on iPads, laptops or anything else, so please do not ask.  But since I do care about all of my friends and their well-being, if your computer is broken I will gladly take a look and do anything I can to fix it for you.