In 2011 my (first) cofounder and I came up with an incredible idea to completely update/reinvent event tickets. For the next two years we built a dream, had some incredible wins and fell for many pitfalls. Almost exactly two years later, we are putting Tixelated to bed. Our idea was solid; create mobile, liquid and social event tickets. (I still think this is a great idea).What we ended up building was Kickstarter for college parties. After 6 months with a live product, we had serviced about 150 events, had over 1,200 users and helped raise around $20K in party funds. But that was not enough because we had made some pretty fundamental mistakes.
If I could go back, I would NOT change a thing. The lessons learned are too valuable. But if I were to start all over again today, there are three lessons I would absolutely carry forward. (There are actually hundreds but for the sake of this blog post, we’ll make it three.)
The right timeline is the backbone of growth and success in a business. Here’s what we thought the timeline was for a booming startup.
Idea > Funding > Product > Customers > Revenue > Success
The key to being a startup founder is finding out whether you have a business as fast as possible. Customers are really the only indicator of a real business. At Tixelated, we put off truly engaging customers, meaning we put off the most important question. We started with our idea and went straight into simultaneously working on a product and meeting with investors. We ended up making a mediocre first impression with investors because all they wanted to know was, do we have a business. So we went back to the drawing board, disappeared for a couple month and corrected our timeline. This time we got it right:
Idea > Customers > Product > Revenue > Funding > Success
The Story Of Growth
Always be telling a story of growth. Whether we were dealing with customers, investors, hires or partners, it was the story that sold. What we had a hard time realizing was that we had total control over our story, what people heard and when. That is a really powerful tool to wield and we could have been setting ourselves up for wins at each milestone. Take our launch for example. We were so caught up in product development that we just wanted to deploy as soon as possible. So on some random day, Tixelated went live. We told our 100 friends and we had a couple events ready to go that weekend. We did not set ourselves up to win. Knowing we had a milestone coming up, we should have built a pressure cooker of anticipation. We should have psyched up our customers, given a blog an exclusive story, planned a party, etc. It should have been the pressure cooker which informed our launch not the product completion. We could have been telling the story of massive adoption, which would have set us up for our next milestone.
As the founder and CEO of Tixelated, my role was strategy, finance, marketing and most importantly leadership. As CEO, my main responsibility was to my team and ensuring their happiness and productivity. Well I completely forgot that I was an employee too, that I needed to make sure I was happy and productive. What we ran out of first, before ideas, before money, before time, was steam. We spent two years tirelessly working, putting all our time, faith and resources into Tixelated. And what we were getting in return was stress, worry, and emotional haywire. I forgot to take care of myself. I never took a step away to gain perspective. I didn’t refuel my tanks along the way, I was just testing how far I could make it on one tank. When people talk about time management, I realize now, it is not about the day to day, it is about finishing the marathon.
So once we got our story straight and built a great product with our customers, we had to tap out. Our moderate success didn’t excite us enough to merit the emotional haywire. There comes a point where you either double down or place a new bet. We went with the later. After we decided to shift our focus away from Tixelated, I went to my investors, friends, partners and explained to them why we were sunsetting the dream. I expected all of them to give me a kick in the pants, encourage me to continue, or call me a coward. The overwhelming response was, “So what? What’s next?” Ha. Not what I was expecting and exactly what I needed to hear. An entrepreneur’s journey is made up of lots of stories and all stories must start and end. The goal is to tell many stories and learn from them so some will have happy endings. Until the next story starts, I will be firstly, taking a vacation and secondly, supporting those around me with the lessons I have learned.
The Party Continues My Friends.