2020 Product Failures

failed December 1st, 2020

Lessons Learned

  • Don't quit too early
  • Friends don't always make great cofounders
  • Relationships are built on communication
  • If you build it, they won't come

One year ago I launched Wrabit. A year later, I've taken it down. Not just Wrabit either but Bard, the project I left my job to work on.

As I listen to my Spotify 2020 Wrapped playlist, it seems fitting that I am reflecting on the two projects that consumed much of my past year. It's bittersweet to take something you poured so much sweat equity into and shut it down for good. My mission in life is to have a positive impact with my code and 2020 saw my first true bout of effort in that regard. I learned a lot, most of the lessons came directly from the failure of those projects.

Both projects share one important lesson for me: don't quit too early. Humans don't seem to be great at long term thinking and I'm no different.

I was coming off the high of releasing Wrabit and felt unsatisfied with my day job. It was less about building things to make people's lives better and more about handling office bureaucracy. That was weighing on me. I wanted to create! So when a friend of mine proposed we create a company together, which ended up being Bard, I couldn't say no. I had some initial success with Wrabit but always saw it as a side project more than a business. So, in some sense, Bard actually ended up being the first death blow for Wrabit. I should've put more time into the project but the allure of working full time on my own startup was really appealing (and still is).

Bard suffered equally from the same lesson. Nothing new came up to pull my attention away from it. I was fully committed to trying to make the internet a better place for writers. In fact, I still believe there is a lot of room to improve the efforts being put forward by people like Patreon and Substack. Plus Bard is the perfect name for a project like this; bards are the OG story tellers. So if quitting early didn't come from a distraction, why'd we throw in the towel? There were a lot of different reasons, but I'm going to reflect on a few of them.

I've never built a product with another person before. Wrabit and Social Media Death Clock were both projects I'd built alone. For the most part, I just never had any ideas that clicked with other people that wanted to build. I never put any thought into what a good founder relationship looks like. With Bard, two friends came together over a mutual idea. We were passionate and our vision was aligned. We had worked together at a digital agency a few years prior but never worked directly with each other. I think that was key. How did we work together? What were our working communication styles like? What hours did we like to work? None of these questions were discussed prior to committing to Bard. Looking back, it seems kind of silly to me that I didn't think about any of it. I was naïve. I was hopeful. I still look at my co-founder as a good friend but our relationship has definitely changed since we threw in the towel.

So that brings us to another lesson, one that probably lead to a lot of the strain in the founder relationship. Relationships are built on communication. Communication is hard. Everyone has a different way of expressing themselves. We all have emotions that influence what we choose to say and how we react to situations. This year I've learnt a lot about the shortcomings in my communication. Both in the context of Bard and my other personal relationships. It's clear that I have a lot of room for improvement. This is one of the hardest lessons I've learned this year and one I want to take with me into 2021 as I attempt to get better at listening to others and voicing my own opinion.

Finally, I learned that if you build it, they won't come. I've always known that sales is an important piece to building successful startup. It comes in various forms (knocking door to door, pitching to your friends, sharing on social media, cold calls, etc.). That being said, I still suffered from the strong belief in the products I was working on and their missions. Why wouldn't people want to use a journalling app where their monthly subscription contributes to mental health research? Why wouldn't anyone want to support writers who are putting out amazing content? Well, what if the people that do want to support mental health or great writers simply don't know your product exists? There's a lot of noise on the internet and my products have been swimming along in the sea of distractions. Going forward, I'm going to take more responsibility for sharing my products. If I don't believe in them enough to shout from the rooftops, then I don't think I should be working on them. I believed in Wrabit and Bard but I was too afraid to shout from the rooftops. I want to keep making products and I want to share them with the world so I'm going to have to be more courageous.

I have no bad feelings about Wrabit, Bard, my co-founder, or any of the events that happened in the past year. I'm glad I quit my job to do what I did. In 2020 I killed two products but I'm grateful either of them launched in the first place. They won't be my last either. I have a long list of ideas that are waiting for execution. My failures don't discourage me to build more, they encourage me to keep iterating on myself, my ideas, and my executions.

As Bruce Lee said, in great attempts it is glorious even to fail.