Autopsy of a Startup Part 2 – What went wrong.

There were a number of places where things went wrong for Fairway Pass last summer. Here are a few…

1. Going it alone – I am part owner and co-founder of a successful business. It has been a lot of work but very rewarding and keeps getting better every day. But in this case, I decided I wanted to see if I could start a profitable venture on my own. I wanted to see if I could take an idea to something profitable all by myself. This was problematic for two reasons. First off, starting a business of any type – regardless of how big or small it is or is going to be – is tough to do. There simply is too much required to go it alone. Even if your partner is a friend or spouse with no vested interest that simply serves as a sounding board and a shoulder to lean on when things get tough, it is usually best to have someone else involved a little. Having a partner or cofounder is akin to having someone to work out with. Just like having a training partner inspires (or obligates) you to go to the gym on snowy days, having a cofounder inspires AND obligates you to do work you might not want to do because your partner is counting on you. Carrying the weight on your own is borderline impossible. Most of the great companies out there were founded by two or three people together. There is a reason for that.

2. Lacking Tenacity – I viewed Fairway Pass as a side business, a part time effort. And it showed in my efforts. I carved out an hour or two each week to make sales calls and send emails. I figured that leaving a message on Tuesday and following up with an email on Friday was enough. Of course, with a sales background I should have known that a half-assed approach to sales would get me half-assed results. I like sales but like many people, initial contact (cold-calling) is not my favorite thing. I was counting on getting a course or two to signup and then using that as leverage to get more courses interested. So instead of working tenaciously and contacting as many courses as I could to close the sale with as many as possible, I only contacted a few courses a little bit. That wasn’t ever going to work.

3. Unpreparedness – I guessed that I might be able to sell 1,000 passes each year for somewhere between $50 and $100 each. So I was guessing that my immediate market was $50,000 to $100,000 annually. That’s a nice chunk of change, no doubt, but it led me to a rather stupid conclusion: that isn’t enough money to split with a partner or two and make it worth the trouble. Problem is, I have absolutely no idea how many potential customers there are in this market. I have no idea what they would pay (if at all) for something like the Fairway Pass. Sales could have been 30 passes for $50 each, which would be awful….or perhaps it could be 3,000 passes at $100 each…I had no idea then and I have no idea now.

There were other mistakes as well, but most of them are tied to the three above. I lacked a partner to motivate me (and I them), to discuss things with, to bring another perspective. I lacked the commitment and tenacity to truly give myself to the success of the business. And I lacked the information necessary to form a real business plan with a chance to succeed.

The worst part is that above ALL else, I believe in EXECUTION. Mediocre – even bad – business ideas can make money with the proper execution. And the best business ideas ever don’t stand a chance with poor execution. So I didn’t eat my own dog food and the business failed long before it ever was a business.

NEXT – Part Three – What I’d do differently

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