Part of The Curious Life Project is giving yourself permission to try new things that interest you. I have way too many ideas, every week, that I think would make a great business. My goal is not to become rich (or even close to it), but to create freedom doing things I love. Most ideas I write down and file for a later time, but some I actually try. Even the ridiculous ideas. Currently I have 3 micro-businesses and I just closed shop on what I thought would be the next big thing. It turns out it wasn’t, but part of living a curious life is learning from your mistakes. In hopes that you can take something away from my failure, I present to you the life cycle of a failed business idea, and what I have learned.
The Idea: ToolShare LLC – I launched a site that allowed users to share tools (hammers, ladders, snow blowers etc…) with their neighbors. Lenders were able to list their tools and the rental price for those tools on my site. Borrowers could use the site to search the tool they needed to complete their DIY project and request the tool for rental. It was envisioned as the Airbnb of tools and home improvement. I had the idea when I needed to fix a few things in my new house in Denver. I had never owned a home and had zero tools. I didn’t want to buy all of the expensive tools I needed and wanted to rent tools that I would only use once. Thus the birth of the idea.
My network of friends raved that it was the best idea ever. I even had a friend at a party offer me a couple thousand dollars, he wanted in. I thought I was on to something huge.
The Business: I first envisioned it as an app. I have an entrepreneur club that I started, which led me to an introduction to a successful app/tech guy. During an afternoon happy hour, sipping delicious local Colorado beer, I had the opportunity to pick his brain. He advised me to launch it as a website first instead of investing the thousands of dollars it would take to hire a developer to create the app. Proof of concept, he kept repeating, proof of concept. You need to see if you actually have a good idea before you invest way too much money. Friends usually tell you what you want to hear. I took his advice and launched http://www.ToolShareDenver.com.
My biggest expense was a lawyer, who I hired to write a rock solid terms of service, so if someone fell off a ladder they rented using the site they could not sue me. The lawyer was $600. My expenses for the site, including freelance graphics ran $200. I registered as an LLC (Limited Liability Company) because of the sue happy idea and for less than $1,000 I was in business.
The Fail: I built up to the launch, sent press releases to traditional media outlets and contacted my social media networks and finally went live. Then, crickets. 1 week went by: 0 users. 2 weeks went by. 0 users. This was turning out to be not only a failure, but an epic dinosaur sized failure. I tried to get creative by using NextDoor to promote my idea (not allowed but I asked for forgiveness later). I received the same response that I had from my friends, great idea, I will sign up! But then, crickets. I got a few users to sign up but eventually it became clear, this was not going to work.
Why it Failed and What I Learned:
- Proof of Concept: I am so glad I listened to my tech entrepreneur friend’s advice, proof of concept. If not, I had already prepared to go big, preparing to spend almost $7,000 on an app, that would sort of be what I wanted. By the way, for me, $7,000 is big. I have no intentions or desires to ever seek funding or run a multi-million dollar company, because I value freedom over creating a corporation. My goal was to create something that would generate a good income for me and let me remain location independent. The proof of concept, or proving your idea by getting a user or customer to actually purchase what you are selling, is key. This saved me a huge loss.
- Make Sure You Are Interested in Your Business: I learned quickly when starting to promote ToolShare that I had very little interest in both being in the tech field and tools. I have basic html skills but when I was getting into what it actually takes to make something like ToolShare, or a sharing economy type of tech company, I quickly despised the rabbit hole I had climbed into. If you hate building sites, fixing code, or any of the tech “stuff” steer clear of this “sexy” business space. I also don’t really love tools or DIY for that matter. This matters because when it came time to promote, write content for the blog, post on social media, I dreaded it. No, I hated it. I can write about adventure travel all day and human stories, but a post about the top DIY projects that you can do with a tree pruner, caused me to physically frown. My takeaway, you better like what you are starting, at least have some interest. Before the business had even launched I had created something I was not excited to work on. Because of this I didn’t give ToolShare the attention it deserved. This may be a great idea, and I am sure someone will launch it successfully someday, but it won’t be me.
- Know Your Timeline: With ToolShare, the business model would not have allowed me to see any income for years. The idea was to build the user numbers, then monetize. As I have already explained, the users were few, but this kind of business takes passion and some serious commitment. When you are a small business, aka I was customer service, web developer, social media marketer, PR, CEO and spokesman, then you better be well prepared for the lack of income. If you own a micro business you know how excited you get when you make a sale. It is at times exhilarating and almost an encouraging friend that cheers you on. You made $50 today! Keep going! You are doing great! You are not insane! But with these types of businesses, your gratification is anything but instant. You must be prepared for this and I know I was not. I eventually stopped trying, leaving the site up, hoping that some magic rainbow unicorn would carry a thousand users to my site, and drop them into my lap. Needless to say, if you don’t put any effort in, you will get nothing out.
- Launch Early – I nitpicked graphics, buttons, ideas, logos, wording and on and on and on for almost a year. By the time It was time to launch I was burnt out on ToolShare. My point is, launch BEFORE you think the idea is perfect. Your customer feedback will help guide your changes but if you wait too long it can be detrimental.
Despite all of this, I am happy I gave it a try. My curiosity led me to try out something new. I know with the lessons I learned, the next project will be better for it. I hope you have learned something from my curious mistakes too.