Autopsy of a Startup. Part 1 – The Backstory and plan

So, last summer I started a new business and it crashed and burned. Well, not really. I only halfway started it and it only halfway crashed and burned – the former is probably the reason for the latter, actually. Frankly, the entire experience is full of entrepreneurial cliches like “fail quickly if you’re going to fail!” and “always have a partner!” and so on and so forth. Truthfully though, there were a number of lessons to be learned (as there always are). Some I had learned before and hadn’t remembered (doh!) and some were new. Here’s the story…

In May I read an article in Inc. magazine about some guys in Ohio who started a company selling discount cards for golf courses. Basically they sold the cards online and at some of the course pro shops and the buyer was entitled to various discounts on green fees, range balls, etc. The numbers in the article were appealing: they were working three markets and had generated about $320k in sales in 2009. That’s not bad at all for a niche product with very little need recurring cost outside of marketing. I decided to dig a little deeper….

The golf discount card is a fairly common business in a lot of markets. But in my market, Austin, there is nothing like it. So I fiddled around with some ideas and talked it over with some of my sounding boards and decided I’d make a go of it. I built the website (HERE) in two days while sitting in the hospital with my wife as she had our first child. I had a friend set up a meeting with a club pro at a course in town and I met with him to pitch the site/product. The reception was lukewarm. He asked me for more details and data. Over the next month I put together a fairly sharp powerpoint presentation that I thought was pretty sharp. It included a product summary, marketing data, our plan of attach, anticipated sales, etc.

See the Powerpoint Here

I sent the document to the first guy I met with and never heard back. My mutual friend would later tell me that “the owners didn’t want to do it.” I emailed and called 12 other public courses in the area and had only one response. I met with her and she was VERY enthusiastic. Come to find out her course was owned by a company that had three area courses and they had a management meeting the following day. She would discuss it with them and I should follow up the beginning of the next week, she said. Next week came and went and my emails were left unanswered and phone messages left unreturned.

My entire gameplan was centered around getting launched between Halloween and Thanksgiving and running a Groupon or Living Social voucher for half off the $80 sales price. I’d take that money and produce a couple 30 second TV spots and run them on HGTV and Food Network between Thanksgiving and Christmas with hopes that wives would buy the voucher online for their husbands/boyfriends for Christmas.

But since I couldn’t a single course signed up, let alone the 8 or 10 I needed to actually have a viable product, I stopped working on the project.

Next: Part 2 – What went wrong

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