Lessons learned from the death of a digital startup

calendar 29 May 2012

It'll have escaped the attention of just about everyone that Meegloo is no longer available. I pulled the site down a few weeks ago to save money for my Next Big Thing, and the distinct lack of reaction - from anyone - goes some way to explaining why it's dead.

Meegloo was initially devised in April 2011 as a dashboard for live events. Gradually I added live video streaming and then later in the year, completely re-engineered it as a Swiss army knife for social reporting. I left a secure job to focus on it, and was accepted onto the Entrepreneurs for the Future programme, in Aston. That decision caused near-irreparable damage to a friendship - which I've now been able to rekindle - and if it weren't for my current project, all of this would have been pointless. So why did Meegloo fail?

It wasn't that the proposition was too difficult to understand. In its first few years, we saw people abandon Twitter very quickly after joining it because they didn't get it. It was free, so there were no barriers to entry. And it worked (there were some teething issues identified by a feedback session earlier this year). But whatever I did, I couldn 't engineer the right following, or get anyone interested in investing in what was such a long tail prospect.

No matter how enthusiastic the "startup scene", Birmingham in the early 2010s is not the right climate for digital starts with products that need critical mass. There aren't enough far-sighted investors who can see the potential in something that won't make money now, but absolutely will in years to come. Then there's the one-man-band aspect.

I defy anyone to tell me that they've made a true success completely on their own. In fairness, pretty much all the advice I received hinted that trying to do this on my lonesome would be a fool's errand, and it was my inability to listen that laid the foundations for Meegloo's failure. I realised that too late, and knew I wouldn't be able to embark on a new project on my own.

I'm a good ideas person, and I'm lucky enough to be able to follow through and build what's in my head, but that's where my abilities end. I couldn't raise interest or investment because I wasn't equipped to. I didn't know what networks to tap, or how best to utilise the sometimes contradictory advice I was getting.

If I'm completely honest, I'd begun losing steam by February, and was largely going through the motions. Building it was fun, but I felt completely stonewalled when I tried to drum up support. Some of those feelings are echoed in my attempt to fund Poddle.tv, but I'm less worried about that as it's a site I built for myself, so any support I get will be a bonus.

All the problems I faced can be traced back to trying to do everything on my own (at least to begin with… I always knew I'd bring others on board, but the mistake was to start up alone). I can't offer much in the way of business advice, but what I can say to anyone who has a killer app they want to build, is to bring a friend on board. Find someone you trust, with knowledge to fill the gaps in yours. Don't think you can pick it up as you go; that might be true, but it won't help you until after the fact. If you can't find someone you trust from your own network, ask around; you might have to hold off on your idea for a while, and if you're anything like me that'll be utterly frustrating, but it'll be worth it.

By all means build it, but don't start doing anything that will lose you money or eat up the clock until you know you've got someone on board to help bring the knowledge you lack. Yes it means sacrificing a percentage of any future profits, but as the cliché goes, 50% of something is still something; 0% of nothing is nothing. And if you're not able to find a market for your product, nothing is what you'll end up with.

I'm pleased to say that I've got someone with me on my next project, and I'm quietly confident about its success. It doesn't need a big upfront investment as it'll make money from day 1. But imagine where I could've been if I'd have realised that last year!

I hope that's of some help to anyone who's thinking of making a big change in their life. Do leave a comment or find me on Twitter if you've any questions or comments.

Mark out.