What are the early symptoms that a startup is going to fail?

Startup, SWOT, Lean, Validation road

In today’s article we will talk more about experience, because as we all know:

“The only source of knowledge is experience.” (Einstein)

The experience, which we would like to share with you, refers to our road to start CayenneApps. That road - to be honest - was quite long and had couple of unexpected turns and pit stops, but ultimately we think it was necessary to lead us where we are today.

Some time ago we felt a special urgency to start something new on our own, what would give us excitement, motivation and allow us to take control of the decision making process. This need came from our previous corporate lives at numerous companies, where we discovered  small influence on the final outcome and long process which it took to come up with a solution.

With our goal in mind,  we started to look for something that would use our skills in the field of software development, user experience and take advantage of our business know-how. Our first attempt at success: Club.me.


The concept of club.me was pretty simple and straight forward at the beginning, or so we thought.

Back then, we suffered from lack of service that would offer suggestion in which club in our city, we might find party which best fits our music taste. We thought that we would definitely use portal, that would take our playlist from last.fm website, compare it with available clubs and suggest the best place to go. We quickly swung into action, to make our first idea a reality. Even though we had no real game plan, he had a lot of ideas how our service should look like.

After a couple of weeks of brainstorming meetings, prototyping and even developing, one key question kept lurching to the surface: how are we going to convince clubs to be our users? Actually we still do not have an idea how to do it.

The amount of effort we put into club.me can be seen below in the screenshots of our prototype club.me. We did enough work to create two working prototypes. These were two different clickable versions of interfaces.

Club.me - version first
First version of Club.Me
Club.me version first
Next Version of Club.Me

Beside working on our new “breakthrough product” we began to look for ways to validate if our idea is not a bit overwhelming for us?

From this perspectiveowl we might ask: really, only a bit overwhelming?!  At that time, we had little experience of making this type of website and we needed a lot of faith and passion in order to continue, in the hope of one day completing the service.

At certain point, we felt as if we were going nowhere fast, so we wisely turned to literature for a little advice. We started to read books on the subject matter, which gave us a good deal to think about. The books were an inspiration, and till this day continue to provide words of wisdom. The books, which we have read include:

  •  “Lean startup” by Eric Ries (we are continuously infected by the never-ending anxiety of hovering between ‘persevere’ and ‘pivot’),
  • “Running Lean” by Ash Maurya (changed absolutely our thinking about interactions with users and validated learning),
  • …and a bit later “Rework” by Jason Fried (convinced us that working and creating your own company at the same time is possible and this company does not have to be as large as Facebook to be successful)

So after reading “Lean startup”  we decided to do small pivot - “structured course correction designed to test a new fundamental hypothesis about the product, strategy, and engine of growth”. 

At that time, we did not have a clear idea of: how to convince clubs to join website, which at that time did not have any users, while at the same time convincing users to join website that did not have any clubs yet. It appeared, that all we had to do was solve this puzzle and all would be well. An entrepreneur’s best friend  - wishful thinking. That is how the brand new idea, code-named Placeherd came about.

Placeherd.com - The herd of places

One would like to think that people learn from their mistakes. Unfortunately, third time is lucky and our second endeavor also became bogged down with issues.   With hindsight our greatest failure with Placeherd was that we followed and repeated a lot of the mistakes that we had made while starting Club.me. We realized that reading too many books once did not necessarily bring about a big enough change in our behaviour to make Placeherd a success. We definitely failed to grasp the concept behind Lean.

With Placeherd we assumed that in order to fill website with content we need to expand our rage. We did not want to limit ourselves simply to clubs, but to add other places where people congregate: parks, museums, restaurants etc. Below, you can see an improved version of Placeherd, a place where the content magically appears.

Placeherd - our second startup idea
Placeherd. Our second startup idea.

Meanwhile, one of our team members participated in time management training, where she learned that SWOT analysis can be used in different ways. We were profoundly inspired by the idea of conducting SWOT and evaluating relations between features. We would finally have a tool to deliberate and validate our concepts. 

Ourfirst series of analyses were done in Excel spreadsheets (we were going to use some other kind of tool, but could not find any other that would support this method). The final verdict for our beloved service: pretty rough! Issues that boiled down to the scale of the projectlist of potential competitors (hey, have you heard about this small website called TripAdvisor?) and a lack of funds.

These issues showed us that we were not properly prepared for such an undertaking - after all, how many times can David defeat Goliath? We were confused and demotivated - to say the least.

A road to CayenneApps

We firmly believed that the time is right to learn a lesson from past events. We started to validate every subsequent idea with our newly learned SWOT analysis method (unfortunately Excel was not so helpful). We finally gave in and stopped wasting our time on something that we finally concluded was unlaunchable and dead.

After spending some time on validating ideas with SWOT, we came up with an alternative thought. Why not create product based on SWOT itself and make the process easier for others? Let’s create an application which would help us and other entrepreneurs to save their time. 

The initial feedback we have gathered has been pretty cool. People were actually eager to use this kind of a tool. Furthermore, we realized, that the capabilietes our tool could reach beyond simply validating ideas. SWOT analysis can be used as a tool for personal development, marketing or SEO strategy definition, job hunting, looking for a flat, analyzing new business opportunities in existing companies, or even building strategy for final World Cup teams… 

This is how our journey began! What about yours?

In case you would like to try and discover how SWOT analysis would change your road, you can take this opportunity here: CayenneApps. Feel free to share your thoughts with us.


Read next: How to conduct SWOT analysis

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