Closing down a startup is a lot like going through a breakup. There are a lot of emotions involved and afterthoughts of how things could have been handled differently. Both startups and relationships are things that you put a lot of time and emotion into hoping they become the one.
Sometimes it only takes one startup or relationship to get things right. We’ve all heard the success stories of young entrepreneurs who start startups in college, the startups take off and then they become ridiculously successful. We also have the friends who end up marrying their high school sweetheart. For the rest of us our first startup or relationship is a very memorable learning experience.
I have been involved in a number of startups but the one that started it all was Soshowise. Soshowise was a expert video marketplace where you could purchase a face-to-face video chats with experts in a variety of fields. We actually stopped working on Soshowise over a year ago but we barely got around to signing the documents to dissolve the corporation today. It wasn’t a heartbreaking experience signing the papers as it was really a year in the making, but it was definitely an emotional experience nonetheless.
I started Soshowise during my senior year at Fresno State back in 2011. I was a an entrepreneurship major at the Lyles Center and our senior project was to start and launch a business. At the beginning of my senior year I had no clue which industry I wanted to enter, let alone what business concept I wanted to use.
I decided I wanted to to start a tech startup for my senior project after watching the film “The Social Network”. I loved the fact that you could build a scalable product that people use from the comfort of your laptop. The only problem was that I didn’t have a tech background and didn’t know how to write code, but I did understand how to articulate the value of a product to consumers and investors. Luckily, my father introduced me to a developer named Greg. After some meetings Greg became a co-founder and most importantly a great friend. My father joined as well as he had a background in IT. Boom! We had a team.
The first prototype built during my senior was rough but it was enough to show proof of concept. In parallel of greg working on the prototype, I wrote our business plan. It was my first business plan and it was 25+ pages long. The prototype in addition to the business plan was enough for me to graduate the program/college.
I put my startup on the back burner for a few months after graduation when I accepted a position at a company. It wasn’t until a couple months after starting my job that I found the drive and experience to turn my class-project into a real business.
We built our second prototype during the HapiHack Hackathon (SF) back in Summer 2011. Soshowise won the award for the best integration of the PayPal API along with some startup cash from PayPal themselves. Winning this large event validated our concept and gave us some notoriety in the tech community.
We then decided raising some money would be the next logical step. We added a strong advisory board with individuals who had worked at PayPal, eBay, Google, Auqeo (VC firm), Intuit and some very other large technology giants. We also brought on a CFO, Todd, who was a local successful entrepreneur and friend of the family. These additions to our team made our company attractive to investors. We eventually went ahead and raised a seed round of funding from local angel investors. We also participated in the Central Valley Venture Forum and some other large pitching contest.
Using the funds we raised, we worked with a large development firm to create our version one. We actually wasted tens of thousands of dollars building a version one that didn’t fit our vision. This frustration caused us to go back to the drawing board and really drill down on what we wanted for our most viable product (MVP). Once we finished our MVP, we launched the web-app and began on boarding users. We started recruiting local experts we knew along with some well-known YouTube experts. The site did gain some traction but the traction eventually diminished as the user interface of the app was just too rough and not intuitive enough for experts and users to use. In a short time we lost about all our traction.
By this time our team was working on Soshowise for almost 2 years, we spent all the money we raised, we did our best to market the product we had only to see it fail due to the UI and we felt we exhausted all our options. We needed to make the app more intuitive, we just no longer had the time or manpower to make it work. We were considering giving up and calling it quits but we decided to throw one last hail mary and bring on another co-founder/developer to finish building the app to our vision.
We looked for about a month or two on AngelList and the Drupal job boards. We got a lot of interested candidates but very few with the experience we were looking for and the ones who had the experience weren’t willing to work for strictly equity and no salary. We eventually found this sharp guy named Ryan out of LA who was interested in joining. He was a fucking rockstar. He sold his first company at 19 and previously worked at Myspace and other large tech companies. We thought it was too be good to be true and it eventually turned out to be so.
Ryan joined Soshowise in May 2013 for a considerable share of the company and ended up resigning in August that same year. The vesting schedule we set up was extremely lenient. I have no hard feelings, he was really good guy and he was presented with a better opportunity at the time. This was the last nail in the coffin. We had some talks over the next few months about giving it another try but nothing materialized. We finally signed the papers today and everything is finalized.
About 8 months ago Google launched Helpouts, a product based around our same exact concept. Even the explainer video they created was very similar to ours. This was a very bittersweet for us. It was obviously a bitter moment due to the fact that they built the product that we had worked so hard on over the last two years. It was a sweet moment because this occurred after we already threw in the towel. The fact that Google saw the potential in the same exact concept we came up with was very validating. It gave me some sort of closure.
Starting my first company was a hell of experience and I will never forget it. I learned a ridiculous amount of lessons and I plan on writing a follow-up blog covering exactly what I learned. I met so many smart amazing people and I started building my reputation as an entrepreneur. When I was 21 years old I thought Soshowise was going to be the one and if I didn’t make it with Soshowise, I would never make it as an entrepreneur. I am now a little bit older, quite a bit wiser and much more realistic with my expectations. I understand entrepreneurship is a journey and each failure is a learning lesson. Each venture I have worked on after Soshowise has helped me reach closer to my goal of becoming a successful entrepreneur and I attribute this to the experiences I obtained while working on Soshowise. Now it’s time for me to kiss these 1.2 million worthless shares goodbye, put my sunglasses on and look forward to the future. I promise you this, the future will be bright.