Since I put up my post yesterday about getting a J.O.B., I've been answering a long series of questions about Buyosphere and what we're doing with it. First off, the plan is to soldier on as I said. Of course there are complications to this. All three of the founders are now engaged in full-time jobs and projects that support us financially - and none of us chose work that is lightweight. And speaking of lightweight, the decision to take work outside of the company we have all spent the past 2.5 years sacrificing our financial security and even our relationships for wasn't a simple one.
But the reality is that we raised enough money to last us 6 months last November and that money was gone in May. And since we had bootstrapped previously for a year and a half, none of us had savings left and all of our spouses/partners had also put themselves in debt to support us.
So in March when we saw the money was nearly gone, Cassandra, Jerome and I sat down and talked about all of the different ways to proceed:
- Sell Buyosphere - but what was there to sell? We weren't happy with the design and usability and though we were growing steadily, there wasn't a hockey stick.
- Raise more money - fine, but looking at the bottom line, we had already given away 40% of our company in the seed stage (mostly because of mistakes with how we structured our Friends & Family - convertible debt, unpriced and WAY too generous) and hadn't reached our seed stage goals, so this was going to be even harder than before. And before was hard.
- Walk away - we seriously thought about it, but we all still believe in the vision and just felt at that moment that it deserved a fighting chance.
- Take the last of the money we had and put it into a proper redesign, then figure out what to do - this was my vote. If we were going down, let's go down in a blaze of glory. Or at least with a product we could be proud of.
So we proceeded with #4. We hired a NYC design firm with good experience in this area, gathered oodles of data and insight to help guide our direction: user testing (people unfamiliar with Buyosphere), focus group type stuff (we had a group of fashion bloggers come in for 2 weeks of intense use and then give us their brutal feedback at the end) and did a pretty epic user survey (3 pages of 25 questions).
Originally, we were going to launch in June, but that timeframe didn't align with our desire to do it right. We're an agile team, but have learned the difference between MVP and WTH. If we were going to do this, we would do this right. So a 3 month sprint turned into a 6 month project. We rebuilt the site pretty much from scratch and created what we think is something that shows the real promise of Buyosphere. Here are some mockups...as we haven't unveiled the new site quite yet:
As you can see, there is a big difference from the previous site and, well, a vast improvement. The site will finally be at a place where we can tweak and improve and build on it. We haven't had a real design done for over a year and the one at that time was lovely, but for a very different site (if you recall, we were previously centered around the bookmarklet and collecting wants and haves).
But as exciting as this is, for those of you who did the calculation in your head, something still didn't add up...am I right? We ran out of money in May/June as 'planned' and we had come to that "then we figure out what to do" stage.
Frankly, I was still unsure. I could re-ignite my speaking career. That had been lucrative and I could do those gigs I hated ("how to use social media for marketing" ugh) to rebuild. I hadn't imagined the book yet, but for anyone who has written a book, you know you don't do it for the money ;). I could consult. I had been pinged by lots of recruiters over the year, so I looked into that. But I wasn't really 'feeling it'. To add to my ennui, I assumed I would have to leave Montreal for work because, well, I don't speak French very well. That would mean that I would have to be apart from Carlos. And though Carlos has been the most supportive boyfriend in the world, he was already feeling the mega financial strain from my crazy startup life. I had put him into debt subsidizing my meagre income (below minimum wage for sure, but less than I've made since I was 21!) and now I had zero to contribute to rent, food or anything.
Nothing was looking right, though I had poked around a bit. I was feeling lost. I feel like I had taken a gamble and screwed everything and everyone up.
Then Tuxedo came along. As I said in my previous post, I didn't really mean it to happen. It just did. I had never considered working at an agency. I did that in my 20's and hated it. But I went to their 2 year anniversary party and left with a new hope. Over the next few months of talking, interviewing and negotiating, I made it clear that I would keep Buyosphere (and researching for a book) and they would get my full attention to the position they hired me for. I recognize this is easier said than done (and in my first two weeks at Tux, I've pulled some pretty significant hours!), and there is always the question, "What happens if Buyosphere takes off?" But once again, I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. I'm committed to my new team and career and I'm committed to making sure Buyosphere is seen through.
We should be opening publicly in the next few weeks. Right now it's a matter of making sure the three of us founders have a window where we can focus on launching properly (ramping up at a new job is time consuming and I want to be able to support a launch). But like I keep saying to people, I'm no longer in a rush. Without having to beat clocks and worrying about the money in the bank, I'm more focused on doing this RIGHT not RUSHED. It's my new motto and it feels better. I know Buyosphere is still early to market. The idea that brands will come to the consumer (VRM) is lauded in the geek community, but still leaves brands and consumers scratching their heads. I'm hoping that we can not only push it gently, but be there and ready when it makes perfect sense.
So that's it. That's the story. I know that there are still lessons to convey (my next in the series of 'Mistakes I've Made'), but the biggest lesson here - and it's one that is largely missed by the incredibly optimistic and often overly-privileged startup community - is that it DOES take money to build stuff. And time. And those who have a large supply of both have more runway to make several mistakes on the road to über success.
Most of us don't have big wads of cash and time to burn, so we have one shot and then we have to figure out how to pay the rent and feed ourselves. And those who achieve success in one shot are just as lucky as they are admirable. And those who don't believe that are either privileged (have time and money to figure stuff out) or amnesic.