The rollercoaster ride of a startup. As a two-time tech entrepreneur (have also started successful non-tech businesses) with one exit under my belt (TailBus), I have not only seen but experienced the highs and lows.
ForeverNOT, a Relationship Betting
Often, we hear rosy stories of about launching a startup. But the reality is far different. It is so different that there is a universally recognized name for the lows that you can experience both personally and in business when running and launching a startup. That term is the “trough of sorrow”. Every seasoned entrepreneur has a couple of stories about their “trough of sorrow” moments.
Summer of 2013, I quit my job and began auditing classes at Columbia Business School. Went across the street (literally) to the engineering school and built out a dev team comprised of masters and undergrad students. We plowed ahead with iOS development as it was the thought process that everyone needed a mobile app. In January 2014, we launched our beta, technically our version 1 to comply with Apple’s Development Guidelines that does not allow betas. And the rest is history.
In early February we officially launched. The big day was here. Months of design, branding, product, development and marketing prep by myself and the team was coming to realization. I had personally spent a lot of the previous month building a PR growth hack. At the time, there was far less publically available information about how to get press for your startup.
The growth hack word, like really really worked! Within a couple of days of launch, we were had been written about by some of the biggest only and print media companies. Within four weeks we have nearly 50 press articles, two TV, and one radio appearance. This resulted in 10s of thousands of downloads.
The Typical News Story
We’ve got Tinder, Hinge, OKCupid, Match.com, Grindr and so many more internet dating services in the world. While it may work for some, it’s a great distraction for most. You can spend hours swiping through Tinder and even more, time rating people one-to-five stars on OkCupid. We’ve gotten to the point where we want everything this very second. But we all know that some of those relationships won’t last.
As soon as a friend gets into a serious relationship, you might think: Good for her/him! The second: you wonder how long will it last? It’s human nature. What if there was an app that would allow you to bet on the relationships of your friends and celebrities? Well…there is. ForeverNOT (clever), will not only allow you to make bets on the relationships of your friends, but also the likes of Kanye and Kim.
The app adds some fun, interactivity, and competition into our natural inclination toward thinking horrible things about happy people by letting you bet on the longevity of your friends’ relationships. You don’t get any money if you’re right, but you’ll get paid out with oodles of schadenfreude.
ForeverNOT works in the same vein as Tinder: It accesses your Facebook information, finds your coupled-up friends, analyzes their interactions, and gives them a score. If you think a couple is one step away from a registry, swipe left. If you’re certain you’ll be sweeping up the smoldering relationship ashes of your high-school friend Emotionally Repressed Rachel and her new boyfriend, Overgrown Alcoholic Fratboy Frank, swipe right. Bonus: To help you feel like less of a jerk, the app throws celebrity relationships like Amber Heard and Johnny Depp into the mix. (Swipe right.)
Five weeks after launch, it was the beginning of March, and we were in the middle of our Seed Round and had more than 65% of the funding committed. It all came to a crashing end with one message in iTunes Connect (Apple’s App Developer Dashboard).
The message expressed that Apple had re-reviewed our App and found it violated their Developer Guidelines. Although this may sound crazy, especially given that apps like TMZ and Perez Hilton engage in “mean-spirited behavior”, it is unfortunately not unusual. Bang with Friends, a competitor to Tinder that utilized the same core function ( the major difference was nearby versus being a Facebook friend) experienced the same rise a fall. Having 10s of thousands of downloads and then being removed from the App Store to by Apple for being “inappropriate”. Tinder, which people famously use for the same purpose, remains in the App Store and is one of the all-time most downloaded dating apps.
Delisted by Apple
With Apple having removed ForeverNOT from the App Store and at the time only really operating on iOS (though there was a desktop Facebook app). We were cut off at the knees. Returned our funding to our investors and packed up shop.
First Time Founder Advice
1) Expect the Lows: Launching a startup is not all smiles and daisies. It hard works. But unlike a regular job, your life, career, and reputation are on the line. As a result, the lows will be among some of the lowest lows of your left. If you anticipate this fact, you will be better equipped to weather the storm.
2) Know Your Dev Environment: Since ForeverNOT I have been engaged in a lot of advisory work with startups and large enterprises looking to build technical products. One thing that people often overlook is the environment they are developing, i.e. iOS, Web, Android, Desktop (Mac, Windows, Linux). For example, Apple is extremely difficult to develop. I have heard many horror stories about Apple not allowing apps into its environment or initially not doing so based Apple’s overall heavily policing of the App Store. Point being, if you product/service may draw some controversy, then think about how and where you develop first. The last thing you want to do as an under-resourced founder is to be in a fight with Apple because they always win.
3) Startups are a Learning Experience: As a founder, you are faced with new challenges and obstacles at every turn. The best advice is welcome these challenges as an opportunity to learn. Often you are trying to do something that no one has done before, and therefore you will be learning and failing. In startups, it’s not how well you success, but how well you learn from trying. Often the biggest mistakes are not trying something. At the end of the day, if you don’t try, you willn’t know if it will work.
Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained
In The End
What you learn today in your startup, will be useful for the rest of your life. What I sent through with ForeverNOT, set me up to run faster than anyone else and take TailBus from zero to acquired in six months.