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Buyosphere

It's time to call it: Pulling the plug on Buyosphere

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It's time to call it: Pulling the plug on Buyosphere

We've been keeping Buyosphere on life support for almost 2 years now. It breaks my heart, but it's time to pull the plug.

We kept hoping that something would happen...someone would come along to save the day: we'd get an upswing in usage (from non-spammers), we'd get someone coming along that would want to buy it, we'd somehow find the way to keep building it. But none of that happened and the hosting bills kept coming in. It hasn't been an easy experience.

In the video, I give a few 'lessons' I learned, but all-in-all, I've come to realize that it wasn't one thing...it was a million things that led to this not turning out the way we wanted it to.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the adventure! I tried to list you in the video. xo

Here's our baby in her hey-day:

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The end of my world as I knew it and I (now) feel fine...[a retrospective on startup grief]

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The end of my world as I knew it and I (now) feel fine...[a retrospective on startup grief]

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(from the cover of How To Survive the End of the World as we Know it by James Rawles]

Today, at the urging of a friend, I told the story of the past year of my life in a private forum for women entrepreneurs that I avoided for that period of time. The women on the list urged that I share this story more publicly, so here it is.

THE END WAS NIGH

For those of you who are new to this story, I am one of the founders of Buyosphere, a website for helping people search for fashion by using real people instead of algorithms to uncover gems and interesting ideas. Going to a 1920's party and don't know where to find a cool flapper dress that is in your price range and won't make your arms look like sausages? Post a question on Buyosphere and there will probably be someone in the community that knows of an affordable, adorable, flattering dress that has your name on it.

I'm fiercely proud of what we built, though we made lots of mistakes and wrong turns to get there, which cost 3 years of my life and over $525,000 in angel and friends and family money (plus lots of our own...I lost count). By the time we course-corrected, the money was gone and there wasn't really any runway left for the newly launched (September 2012) awesome 1.0 version of the site. Instead, we needed to find jobs and move on.

THE FALL

Moving on was incredibly painful. My dream was dashed. I was broke. I felt like a joke. I disappointed the friends and family who had invested in me. I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life anymore. I hadn't made a fall-back plan. I had no idea how to operate in this new paradigm.

Just when I thought I couldn't feel lower, I took a job that I ended up despising for a wage that was worse than wat I made when I was in my 20's for a company who didn't value my experience or ideas...who fired me after the trial period because "I didn't fit in." I went from feeling like a failure to wanting to disappear altogether.

I really didn't know who I was anymore. And I certainly didn't know how to express that. I felt numb. I was in a state of numb for 6 months. I tuned out everything. I didn't want to hear about struggle or success or anything that was going on in the startup world or tech community. I unsubscribed from everything. Every group, every list, every newsletter. I stopped talking to people who mattered in my life during my startup/tech days. I gave a talk during this period at a conference. Frankly, I don't know how I did it. I barely remember it.

THE DISTRACTION

I needed a BIG change. Luckily a friend turned me onto a job on a political campaign (Justin Trudeau) and I was able to throw myself into a completely different world. It was awesome and exactly what I needed, but I eventually had to come out of it. I'm passionate about politics, but I didn't want to make a career out of it.

And I also had 'my win'. Justin won the Leadership race with 80% of the popular vote and the social media plan and content I came up with brought in a big part of the new votes. I remember thinking at one point, "Yep. I still have it." And that was the kind of confidence boost I needed to get out of my slump.

THE RECOVERY

Recovery is a funny thing. It was so gradual that I didn't even realize I was getting better. The myth persists that you wake up one day and - poof - you feel better again. But that wasn't my experience. Slowly but surely, I just started to get my mojo back and I really didn't even notice it. Not until today when Melinda asked me to talk about my 'absence' from the group.

Slowly I had ideas. Inspiration. Drive. A desire to do something again. I slowly stopped feeling afraid. I slowly stopped feeling dread. I slowly regained confidence. I slowly stopped asking, "Why would anyone want me?" and started believing in myself again. The question, instead, started to become, "Why would I want to work for anyone else?" more and more. And then I found myself sitting with a couple of potential partners to discuss setting up a new agency.

I think everyone has different ways of dealing with grief. Even the most social of us can be SO devastated that we need some space and time to reflect and get our bearings back. I didn't even know how to talk about it and I certainly didn't have the desire to reach out to anyone. I needed distance from it. A new perspective. I'm not back to my pre-startup chutzpah quite yet, but I do feel okay about everything.

And I'm also feeling hopeful about Buyosphere again. It has at least a few more versions to go to make it a fully functioning, amazing tool, but it's got the basis of it. Nearly a year later, I still love looking at it and I still believe in the core premise. Fashion search is pretty damned broken. I think this is the right approach. Hell, if you know of anyone looking to buy a startup in the fashion space, I have one that is WAY undervalued. ;)

THE CONCLUSION

People will tell you that there is life after your startup fails, but I guarantee you won't feel that way when it happens. And that's cool. Because you need to mourn it. And you probably need to figure out who you are again without the startup. And, like me, you probably won't want to go back to what you were doing before. The pressure will be immense to do something bigger and better and altogether different. Go do that. Or just give yourself as much time as you need. And just fall apart as much as you need to. I recommend a time-consuming distraction that is completely different from what you were doing. I've heard of ex-startup founders getting married, going back to school, climbing a mountain...whatever works.

And for those of you who know someone who is going through this: they don't need/want your advice. They certainly don't need/want your condolences. Don't tell them to look on the bright side. Don't try to fix anything. They probably don't want to talk about it at all. The best thing you can do for them is be normal and let them be normal and give them space. And if they don't want to see you it is because you somehow remind them of their self-loathing pain. Don't take that personally. I know. It's hard not to.

I can honestly say that I'm a much stronger, smarter, more interesting person for going through all of this. And my next venture? It's going to be better for it.

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There's No Shame in That

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There's No Shame in That

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Shame Flag on Flickr I was describing my startup experience to a woman I admire the other day, when out of the blue, she asked:

"Was it worth it?"

I hardly hesitated at all and said:

"The only thing I'd change if I could go back is that I'd integrate the incredible lessons I've learned during this time."

And it's true. I couldn't have learned any of what I've learned in a book or a seminar. I feel like I've taken the ultimate MBA. But it took her asking the question for me to realize that. Before she asked the question, I was feeling lots of shame. Why? Because I was focusing on what I didn't accomplish instead of seeing what I DID accomplish.

The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else's highlight reel. - Steven Furtick

The truth is that we (my Buyosphere team and I) did things that the vast majority of people never even attempt:

  • We raised venture capital (even if it wasn't enough)
  • We built a social web application from scratch - multiple times - and for those who haven't built a social web application, here is something to know: building a website is a challenge, building a social website (that people interact with) is another level of challenge and building a social web application (that people interact with and it changes with that social interaction) is a WHOLE 'NOTHER level of challenge. There are so many moving parts behind the scenes. I have mad respect for anyone that builds web applications now.
  • We stuck to it through thick and thin, through lots of questions and uncertainty and through not knowing how we were going to make payroll in a few days time.
  • We learned to work together - fighting like cats and dogs at times, but having uber respect for one another while disagreeing.
  • We hired and fired people - learning the importance of hiring talented people who could teach us a thing or ten.
  • We budgeted, planned and balanced a very small amount of cash to make it stretch as far as it possibly could.
  • We took that leap that lots of people talk about, but only a sliver of the population takes and did it wholeheartedly.

And, nope, we didn't become the next Facebook and fell short of our dreams for Buyosphere, but we built something to be proud of and we did it with all sorts of odds against us. Hell, we're still getting featured in major publications as their Super Clever Click and it isn't over quite yet. Who knows what could happen going forward? I don't think we built any of it in vain. Maybe it's ahead of it's time (I know from experience that brands aren't quite ready to grasp this concept). As SF Fashion Tech said in their review, " It’s hard to draw an apt comparison because there’s nothing similar to this right now..." We'll see and I haven't given up hope.

YOLO as the saying goes and it's true. Anyone who takes a risk to do something that isn't easy and has little certainty should be high-fived, as I've learned when I worked at Santacruzsolarcompanies.co Santa Cruz solar companies. There is no shame in taking that leap and falling on your face. There IS SHAME in talking about taking that leap, never doing it, then pointing fingers and laughing at those falling on their faces.

Before all of this happened, I didn't really know what people meant when they said, "Failure is good. You should fail several times in your life." I thought that sounded like the most awful advice ever. But now I understand. Experience is the result of failure. I've known people who have it easy (connected to money and people and luck) and sail through to big success without learning anything only to arrogantly go at it again and fall on their faces. Any one of those people I've talked to has said to me, "I enjoyed my flop much more than my success." Why? Because of what they learned. And how slowly, but surely, they grew as individuals who had much better lessons to convey.

And yes, if I could wave a magic wand and change the outcome to Buyosphere being an IPO'd/acquired company that lined my pockets with millions of dollars, of course I would! But what I'm saying is that I don't regret that it turned out differently. Not at all.

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The Upcoming Buyosphere + Its Future

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The Upcoming Buyosphere + Its Future

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

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So, What Does a Startup CEO DO, Anyway?

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So, What Does a Startup CEO DO, Anyway?

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After a recent talk at a conference, a young man walked up to me and proclaimed to me, "I want to be a CEO, too!" I just about spewed the coffee I was drinking all over him. I asked him, "Do you know what that means?"

"Well, maybe you can tell me. You are the CEO of your company. How do I become one?"

Oy.

Titles are loaded and, in a startup, they don't really mean much of anything except for creating some sort of illusion to the outside world that you have taken on a certain role. The truth is, if I were to list my actual title it would be:

Tara Hunt junior designer, marketing manager, PR manager, copywriter, blogger, product manager, assistant, business development associate, janitor, event coordinator, HR manager, gopher, researcher, analyst, strategic planner, fundraiser, etc.

The past two weeks, I've been elbow deep in Photoshop, laying out new pages based on specs provided from our hired design team. We could only afford a small number of pages to be laid out and general specs to be defined - in order to save $$, I took over from there. For the month prior to SXSW, I coordinated the Beauty Bar Event, including designing the schwag to specifications provided by the printing company (good thing I have experience with InDesign and Illustrator and have done print work before), budgetting with the vendors, coordinating staff, raising sponsorships, designing the schedule and layout and marketing the event.

Quite often I'm researching and writing blog posts, putting together pitch decks, pitching, writing job descriptions, interviewing, doing PR outreach, community management and emptying the waste bins in our office and cleaning the bathroom because we don't have the budget for a cleaner.

I'm lucky because I get to share responsibilities with my two co-founders, but I know CEOs that take on coding, budgeting, tax accounting, etc on top of my stuff.

So, what does a startup CEO DO? Everything except for what you'd imagine a CEO of a company doing. Sure, when you start to grow a company, you can also delegate, which is very much more Chief-Executive-ish, but before that time? You want something done, you need to do it.

I will tell you what a startup CEO doesn't do, though. We don't collect a big paycheck, we don't leave at 5pm, we don't get weekends or holidays or vacation days. We don't get bonuses, we rarely get kudos and we certainly don't get a big, gorgeous corner office and a secretary. We don't get power, prestige or any level of stability or certainty. But we continue to build and do this day in and day out. And we look forward to actually earning a title that means we're in charge, capable and responsible for the future of our companies.

So what did I say back to the enthusiastic young man who wanted to be a CEO?

"You become a CEO when you've earned the title. I'm still a long ways from earning mine, but with hard work and sacrifice, I know I'll get there."

He didn't look satisfied with my answer.

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My First Haul Video

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My First Haul Video

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I’ve been consuming haul videos for a while now…they are an interesting phenomenon: incredibly popular accounts of a shopping spree done on video. Usually by a 20 something or a teen and quite often they cover a trip to the mall. My haul is a bit different. I definitely didn’t spend hours on my hair and makeup (maybe I should have?) and I’m pushing 40 instead of in my early 20′s. But I was compelled to make it because of the surprisingly great finds I bought from Simons*.

I had fun making it and I think I’ll have even more fun wearing my new finds. It isn’t very often these days that I get to go on a spree.  :)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31VN8Bdff8M&w=560&h=315]

* Full disclosure, Simons sent me a gift certificate, but they didn’t ask me to follow up with a video or a post or anything. In fact, I get stuff like this all of the time and rarely feel compelled (I’m on some sort of Canadian fashion influencers list…which is funny, but awesome).

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BeautyBarX - it happened!!!

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BeautyBarX - it happened!!!

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We were really happy to be the hosts of the premiere women's event at SXSW Interactive this year: BeautyBarX Just to give you a little glimpse into what went down...

Kaitlin Won the Grande Prize! Simone won the Anne Cramer Dress!Niamh won the Samsung Tablet!

 

So yes...it was a RESOUNDING success!! Even though it rained like crazy for the first two days, women were already lined up at 9am for their manicure and mimosa and many stayed and came back. Many reported back that it was an oasis in the middle of SXSW. We really hope to be able to do this again next year!

Big ups to our partners:

and our sponsors:

LoveThatFit - Jewelmint - Bloom

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SXSW, BeautyBarX and the Quest to Create a Space for Women

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SXSW, BeautyBarX and the Quest to Create a Space for Women

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I've been attending SXSW Interactive since 2005. It's amazing and I've watched it grow from impressive to "OMFG where are all these people coming from?!" Last year, there were nearly 20,000 registered geeks in attendance, but many estimated that the event was also subsidized by an almost equivalent number of people who came to enjoy the festivities without a badge. Rough guesses estimated the population of Austin to increase by 40,000 just for SXSW Interactive. What I've also noticed that there are more and more women attending each year. I asked Hugh Forrest, the man in charge of the show, what his estimates on women last year were and he replied, "A VERY conservative reply is that 1/3rd of our signups are women." That's about 6,800 women if my math is right. Wowsers!

What I also noticed last year was that there wasn't much catering to that growing population. From what I could tell, the only women-focused event was Digitini, a really cool event honoring the women contributing to Tech. I've heard that it's probably not happening in 2012. :( Guy Kawasaki, Kirtsy and Alltop also did a fun event called Guy/Gal a couple of years back (I couldn't attend, but I heard it was great). But for 1/3rd of the population of SXSW, I would hope there would be more!

Sure, we're all equal here, right? An event is an event and it's non-gendered, right? Well...yes. Most events are neutral. In fact, life is neutral. Until you realize what neutral is...

Back in my cultural studies classes (where I have my degree), we examined the problem with the center and otherness. The center/neutral/sameness is the cultural pivot point. The idea that there is a characteristic or persona that is neutral makes everyone else necessarily conform. So think UNISEX t-shirts. They aren't really unisex are they? They are t-shirts designed for a male body that are a little bit more tapered. They end up looking boxy on women (and probably fit a very distinct version of a male physique). Think of neutral colors like beige. They work for muted, quiet designs. They don't offend, but they don't express either.

So here I was, running between meetings and panels and events and thinking, "Where can I get a good manicure?" and coming up short and knowing that there wasn't really a place where women could just BE WOMEN (and that doesn't mean anything in particular, but spaces that are built for women do feel different). So I decided there and then that I would create something in 2012 come hell or high water that would be THAT thing. Completely UNneutral.

So here it is:

Beauty Bar X

And I posted it to Eventbrite and Facebook and did mostly nothing with it yet, but am getting a steady stream of signups and messages like, "OMG...this is SO needed!"

But here is the rub...I got Buyosphere to sponsor it, but we have a wee bit of seed funding that cannot cover an event that costs $25,000 to put on (I've asked our amazing event planners if we could cut back and they tried, but SXSW makes the city uber costly). I squeezed $5,000 out of my company (my board and co-founders won't approve more - that's an entire month of runway!). I may be able to put a couple of grand into it from my own pocket as well...but we really need to raise $20,000 (or something close to it) to make this happen.

Crazy awesome part of this is that this is the PERFECT OPPORTUNITY for any brand focused on reaching influential women to do so. We will have a space catering to women at SXSW. Women from all over the world with tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of followers. Not only that, we will be offering them a great space to be pampered in. Hello skincare companies! Hello nailcare companies! Hello health companies!

So...in order to make this happen, I've set up an IndieGoGo campaign:

http://www.indiegogo.com/Sponsor-The-BeautyBarX-Event

The goal is to raise $20,000 or as close to it as I possibly can so we can make this happen. The sponsorship levels are spelled out on IndieGoGo, but people that want to see it happen can also help out. I was ready to pull the plug last week, but something just made me want to push on. I know we can do this. I'd love to see it happen. Can we crowdsource it? I know it's needed. Let's make it happen!

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Time keeps on slipping slipping slipping slipping

...into the future. Now that Buyosphere is funded, I'm writing a regular column on INC.com and the myriad of other things that I've committed to are going on, I find myself looking at the clock everyday thinking, "OMG, where did the day go?" and the calendar at the end of every week and wondering, "It's not THAT DAY already, is it?" Time really is relative.

I used to be that person who would get back to everyone who emailed me lickity split. I would say yes to every coffee/lunch/drink invitation because, well, you never know where that relationship may lead. I took on all sorts of projects and talks and columns and mentorships and whatever I could pack into my days because I wanted to build my Whuffie and build my reputation. I took pride in all of this. I was approachable and generous with my time and I really believed it is what helped me go from a total nobody born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and raised in a small town in Alberta to being paid to stand in front of audiences of thousands of people and  blah blah blah about how I see the world. So it's really hard to become that person who lets email inboxes fill up with thousands of unreplied email and tells people NO on a regular basis.

I still think that stuff is important. Don't get me wrong. But I only have so many hours in my day and, as it is, I'm not spending near enough of it taking care of myself. I need to be smart with the time I have left over and, unfortunately, many of my decisions on how to spend it go back to whether or not it will help me and my business and not the other way around.

From what I hear, though, this is a temporary state of being. I've been told by people who have worked hard and become very successful that they can now go back to giving instead of taking again. But instead of rationalizing about it, I just need to keep focused.

All of this is to say...I won't be blogging much here for a while and everywhere else I'm communicating, I'm going to seem less like Tara and more like, I don't know, someone else who is obsessed with building her business. I can't wait until I have the time again to share everything. Thanks for your support and someday I hope to buy all of you a cruise around the world with me.

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2012 #Themeword: GIVE'R

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2012 #Themeword: GIVE'R

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I can't believe that 2011 is almost over. It seems like yesterday that I was writing the themeword post for this year...REAP. This year really seemed to fly by in a way I don't recall other years flying by. Perhaps it is because I was so pre-occupied. Between being busier than I've ever been in my life and starting a new relationship, I lost track of time. You can say what you will about the challenge of startups, but they define a new level of focus that I didn't even know existed before this year. Even though I'd been working pretty diligently last year on things, it wasn't until this year that 'shit got real' (so to speak).

When I started thinking about my #themeword for this year (thanks to Laura, Karen and Liza), I looked back at how REAP worked out for this past year. What started out as a rocky year actually turned out pretty REAP-worthy. It unfolded slowly and I hardly even saw it shifting because it never got easier, but there it was. There was still time in 2011 and we started to REAP the benefits of the long road of work we put into things. But let me back up.

Number one was the relationship. I met someone right away. Only. That wasn't the right person. I thought it was because, well, I asked for the ability to find one. But it was pretty quickly apparent that it wasn't the right one. But it didn't take long and those closed doors made way for open ones.

When I met Carlos, I wasn't sure. He was definitely handsome, fun, smart and sweet, but I had a very definite 'type' in mind. That was my biggest problem. I kept going for the wrong guy. But I was lucky this time. The right guy went for ME. And even when I resisted, he persisted and wore me down. He helped me see that my list was stupid. I wasn't looking for what I needed, I was looking for what I thought I wanted. And what I wanted wasn't congruent with what I needed. But it took a man with a will bigger than mine to show me the light.

This has been a big 2011 point of REAPness.

As for Buyosphere, which started out this year under a different awful name. And a bit of a different idea. Well, that took a little longer. And with good reason...in retrospect.

I wrote recently about the anatomy of a pivot. It's a really personal story. I needed to learn a bunch of things: how to let go of the solution and focus on the problem. I'm stubborn. If it wasn't apparent in my personal relationship story, I suffer a bit from myopia. I convince myself of something and everything lines up to support that thesis in my mind. I don't budge. For Buyosphere, I was focused on data as the solution to helping people find what they were looking for. I was so convinced that I didn't know why everyone else didn't see it. And, to be fair to my own thinking, it was AN idea and someone will surely do it someday, but it will take lots of time and money and huge leaps forward in web standards...probably resulting in about 10-15 years of blood, sweat and tears on the subject.

It was late spring that we realized there was an issue. People liked the name, the design, the UI and a whole bunch of other bits and bobs with Buyosphere, but it wasn't solving the problem that it set out to solve and so it fell flat. We knew we needed to be useful now.

The funny thing is that I often told the story of my epic search for a black skirt and nobody ever questioned it...until one day David Rose made a super 'should-have-been-obvious' statement to me. I told him that Buyosphere is born from a series of fruitless and frustrating online shopping searches that ended empty handed and the best illustration of this was a search for a plain black skirt that took me 3.5 hours and 14 sites to find. So after giving him a few bars of my pitch, he stops me and asks, "Wait a minute. So when do you find the skirt?" I stammered a bit, "Well, after we gather the data and create this..." He stopped me, "Let me get this right, you took a 3.5 hour search and turned it into a 3.5 YEAR search? That doesn't sound so efficient to me." My jaw must have dropped to the ground. He was completely right. I was at a loss. But he's a smart guy and pushed a bit more, "Stop the deck and show me your site." And I did. I walked him through some of the features. The next thing he said to me triggered everything else that would come, "Wow, this is nice. Your site has a bunch of Quora-like features."

*flashbulb*

Black skirt. Quora. What would it take to shift...er...pivot to make helping people find stuff less about data and more about Q&A? Turns out 3 months.

It wasn't the first time I heard Quora brought up as a comparison or the first time someone suggested we create the ability to ask one another for advice. But it was the first time I was open to it and completely ready to hear it. David Rose is truly an angel.

It's what turned everything around for us. Jerome started working on the new site. I re-worked the pitch deck and the business plan. Cassandra worked on the business modeling around the new, improved idea. Within 3 months, we had a new site (which we haven't started any promotion on, but is getting steady sign ups and pick up), our seed funding (oversubscribed!) and a bright new path into the new year that is much more exciting and feels like the winner.

So...yeah...epic 2011. Very very REAPable. Where do I go from here?

Well, I know we still have lots of work to do and a long road ahead. I like the way that road is looking though. And now that I know that the road we're traveling is the right one, there is nothing left to do but work hard, smart and...well...

GIVE'R

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it comes from my upbringing. I was raised in small town Alberta where bush parties and shotgunning beer are hobbies. If you haven't seen the movie, Fubar, here is a taste. Ah. Sniff. Memories! The term GIVE'R is often the philosophy of the partier, but I think it applies well to startup life. In essence it means (from Urban Dictionary):

"1. Going all out and/or balls to the wall to take care of business as quickly and as awesomely as possible 2. Acting in a way that is like you're rocking out really hard, but at the same time, trying to solve a problem that may or may not involve drop-kicking something without hesitation"

Quickly, efficiently and awesomely going all out. That is what 2012 is going to be about. With or without the drop-kicking. Hopefully without. We're going to GIVE'R through this next year and it's going to pay off big time.

So there you go. GIVE'R in 2012. That's my #themeword.

So, in the tradition that Erica Douglass began on NYE 2007/2008, what is YOUR #themeword?

How to Pick Your #ThemeWord for 2011 (via Erica O’Grady):

  1. Think of a word that reflects your hopes and dreams for 2010.
  2. Share your ThemeWord with friends on Twitter, Facebook, or Your Blog.
  3. Be sure and use the hashtag #Themeword.

What I love about boiling the entire year down into one word is that it helps focus everything else. It’s also a fun exercise. Be sure to tweet and tell me yours.

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