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Note: This is a pretty long post, it would take me ages to format the whole thing for Reddit, so I've posted the beginning with link to the rest, hope that's ok. The full post is at www.bugmuncher.com/blog/timeline-of-failures
Thomas Edison famously once said "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work"
, and I can relate. With the exception of my freelance developer days, BugMuncher is my first venture that I would consider successful
(even though it's still not quite profitable). The truth is, I've been trying (and failing) to get some kind of business/side project/get-rich-eventually scheme off the ground for over 12 years.
I was thinking about this recently, and decided it would be fun*
to look at some of my previous projects and half-baked ideas, specifically why they failed: fun for me at least, and hopefully not mind-numbingly tedious for you 2004 - Pre-wired Parallel LCDs Plug and play LCD readouts for computers
I almost forgot this venture until I was nearly finished writing this post. In 2004 I was just 18 years old and taking a gap year between college and uni. This wasn't so I could travel or do anything cool like that, it was simply because I didn't know what I wanted to do at uni. I actually spent the year doing telemarketing for a pest control company (you can't make this stuff up).
At the time I was quite into the modified computer scene, and one popular mod was to put an LCD readout on the case that could display things like internal temperatures, memory usage, custom messages, etc. To do this you could either buy an expensive USB unit, or buy a cheap bare LCD screen and wire it up to the computer's parallel port. (Hey, remember when computers had parallel ports? No, me neither)
With my A-level in electronics fresh in my mind, I decided I would buy the bare LCD displays, and manufacture circuit boards that would allow them them simply plug into the parallel port without needing any extra wiring. No one else was making plug and play parallel displays, there seemed to be a gap in the market. Launch
I used to post a lot on a forum for computer modifying, so I created a post on there to gauge interest. The post took off, a lot of people were interested and wanting to order from me, I thought I was gonna be rich. Revenue
This was straight forward (or so I thought), buy the parts, put them together, add a profit margin, sell. Cause of death
The main problem I had was sourcing the base LCD units at a decent price, with out having to order thousands. I went through quite a few suppliers but they all seemed to be too expensive, or fell through before I could sort out a deal. Added to that, I found etching the circuit boards had quite a high failure rate, and there was still the time required to put the parts together. In the end, it just wasn't viable. Lesson Learned
Startups are hard, hardware startups are harder, bootstrapped hardware startups are hardest. If I were to try this again knowing what I know now, I'd make sure I had enough capital to order a big batch of LCD units, as well as have the circuit boards professionally printed rather than trying to etch them myself in the garden. 2006 - Nomad Recordings
Mobile Recording Studio
Now 20 years old, I was in University, and dreamed of being a rock star. I'd been recording my own music for a few years, and thought I did a pretty good job of it (I didn't). I'd also recently passed my driving test, and now had a car. A plan formed.
I blew a large chunk of my student loan on some new, more portable, recording equipment, with the plan of being a low cost alternative to a recording studio for local bands looking to cut a demo.
As is the story of my life, there was no marketing plan. I made a basic logo in photoshop, and set up a MySpace page. (Hey, remember MySpace? No, me neither)
I had a total of two customers, neither of whom paid for my services: A band in which I was the bass player, and my younger brother's band. The idea being I'd record these for free so I'd have a half-decent portfolio of work to show potential paying customers. Unfortunately the paying customers never came. But then, I never went looking for them.
Cause of death
I'd have to say lack of marketing efforts, but had I done any marketing, I'm sure the shitty quality of my recordings would have put off any potential customers. I don't really remember deciding to shut Nomad Recordings down. I think that the lack of customers, plus the growing work load of my third year of Uni, caused me to lose interest.
If you build it, they probably wont come. It's a lesson I've learned many times, and I'm still learning with BugMuncher. If you don't actively try to get customers, they're unlikely to come find you.
2007 - xStatic
Easily edit Static Websites
Fresh out of University, and with no interest in using my computer games development degree to actually develop computer games, I started freelancing as a designer and developer of websites. One of my first clients was a local gym, who initially wanted some changes made to their website.
Their website was 100% static, in the old-school way, ie: No databases, no build scripts, just hand-coded HTML. Back in '07, this kind of set up was fairly common. (Hey remember when websites where hand coded HTML? What you mean this is getting old?)
This gave me an idea - what if I could build something that could drop into a site like this, and allow you to edit it? xStatic was born. With youth comes naivety, so I didn't do any market research, or even think about how I'd make money from this, I just dove straight into code.
My initial demo worked pretty well, but I never got as far as adding security and launching it. I'm confused by my own actions here, as I can't for the life of me remember why I stopped working on xStatic.
Back in 2007 this could have been a pretty awesome tool - a database-free CMS for existing websites. In 2012 EllisLab (the guys behind Expression Engine) launched MojoMotor, which did roughly the same thing. I was 5 years ahead of them!
I never thought as far ahead as monetisation, but I suspect it would have been a one-off cost to buy the software, as there was no need for it to be centrally hosted or 'phone home', so a subscription would have been disingenuous.
Cause of Death
It just kind of, stopped. Maybe there was some bug I just couldn't fix, maybe I just lost interest, I don't remember. I don't even have the source code any more, but one way or another, xStatic never saw the light of day.
Don't give up so easily on something that could have actually been a pretty cool product.
You can read the whole post at www.bugmuncher.com/blog/timeline-of-failures