It’s February, 2016 and I’m nearing the end of one of the craziest startup roller coaster rides imaginable. A year earlier in February, 2015, I had killed my previous startup, Vonvo.com after a 3.5 yearlong run, and now I just finished 12 months of helping launch the most popular product on the planet with the Hoverboard. The Hoverboard had accumulated an obnoxious amount of attention over the past year and with it all, the real question I was left trying to answer was,
“Is the Hoverboard going to stay this popular throughout 2016?”
The answer to this question to an outsider was probably an easy one. But as the guy in the startup trenches, investing his time and energy into this product on a daily basis it was not nearly as clear. It felt like I was in one of those good angel vs. bad angel animation scenes you see in movies.
I had a bad angel on one shoulder saying that the Hoverboard still had potential and that I should continue sticking it out and riding the wave we had been on, while I had a good angel on my other shoulder telling me to get the hell out of this business as quickly as possible.
After witnessing so many exceptional things the previous 12 months, it wasn’t so easy to just move on from such a virally popular product. We knew that other product enhancements were on the way, such as bluetooth speakers and lighter weight devices, and we also still felt like the vision of the product becoming the “new mode of transportation” was still obtainable. Acquiring customers for us in our later months was a challenge, however.
Our company also still held brand recognition in the space as the market leader and going into 2016 there was no doubt that we had accumulated all the contacts needed to recreate momentum once the dust settled. However, this dust never seemed to settle, but rather ballooned into a thick cloud of smoke.
As more and more negative press about Hoverboard fires and explosions kept popping up in the news each day, more and more threats kept appearing. First it was the local governments issuing bans on using the product in city streets and sidewalks like NYC and London.
Then it was the federal government, in particular the CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission), issuing press releases deeming the product unsafe and explaining to consumers that the government codes and regulations surrounding the product would be changing in relation to the battery sizes.
It all culminated with FedEx making it practically impossible to ship Hoverboards after these new government codes came out, and as a result shipping restrictions on the product increased to a new high. Along with these new restrictions by FedEx came increased shipping costs that also made it extremely unaffordable to ship these products any longer.
See, Hoverboards at this point became labeled as a class 9 dangerous good, and that meant that now my company needed to have proper licensing, and appropriate paperwork approved each and every time we wanted to ship these goods.
Not only was there this logistical shipping headache, but once you did that it was then going to cost an additional $500 in shipping costs just to ship the product each time due to its hazardous risk. Personally, it was this FedEx/shipping item hassle that was the last straw for me. I didn’t see any way in which the business could be profitable and even more so sustainable with these new shipping bottlenecks.
Additionally, we also experienced newfound sales issues. Long story short, sales had plummeted at this time, where as two months earlier during Christmastime, sales had skyrocketed. By the time March, 2016 came around, we were lucky if we received 2 orders a day. At this point, the Hoverboard was screaming “FAD!” and I had to remove myself from the company.
Although many of the above reasons might have made you think it would have been an easy decision to leave, it really wasn’t. When you see the entire globe fall crazy in love with a product that you helped bring to market from day 1, leaving breaks your heart. You were just given the chance to launch a viral company, product, and brand and now you’re about to walk away from it.
In fact, now you’re going to let it slip away purposefully because you don’t believe in it anymore. As an entrepreneur, that’s extremely frustrating and debilitating. Thousands of entrepreneurs will attempt to launch a product that gains this kind of traction for years and still never succeed, so to be given the opportunity to do it, succeed, and then ultimately see it fail crushes you inside.
As an entrepreneur, you’re trained to never give up until the very very end. I had just invested 3.5 years into a different startup, and to now only give the Hoverboard 12 months after receiving so much traction didn’t make sense. You really can experience struggles in letting go. There’s the thought that perhaps the product will make a comeback after all the commotion quiets down and you don’t want to be the guy that leaves too prematurely.
But, in the end, there were dozens of other separate reasons that I can account for that I was weighing, for whether or not to stay or move on. Ultimately, I decided to move on and by end of March 2016 I left the company. In hindsight, I’m glad I did. It hurt to move on, but I feel I’ve been vindicated in my choice since. My Hoverboard experience taught me a lot and for that I’m very grateful.