If you have heard the clichéd Winston Churchill quote “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm”, I am a testimony to it. In this post today, I am going to share my story that has taught me a thing or two about entrepreneurship.
This is a story of passion, hard work, persistence, and of course failure that eventually culminates at success. It is a story that has bolstered my belief in myself as an entrepreneur and I am sure you will learn something from my experience.
The Beginning and The Failure
The story started when I was a Ph.D. student at Georgia State University. Towards the end of my fourth year at Atlanta, lady Luck favored me and I met my partner Jay Moran to enter the world of entrepreneurship. We started working on Bookup together. Bookup was my first business-to-customer startup (I had my first company where we built Desktop-based software for business process’ automation).
We only wanted to capture a 2% share of $8 Billion used books market :). Fast forward today, Bookup hasn’t yet come even close to what we wanted it to be. We do get a lot of people to Bookup (see how we acquire users for free in this post), but almost no one buys anything from there.
We continued to monitor things carefully for a long time and we changed a lot while doing so. However, nothing we did changed how our users used it. We had information on about a Million books, yet nobody found anything worth buying. We had put everything we had into it and it is not a success yet, so let us call it a failure for now.
Persisting through Failure
With that, let us move to the interesting part that we could call success.
While working on Bookup, we assumed we had a lot of wrong data when we saw that some sites were buying books at a higher price than what other sites were selling the same book for. A close observation (read: cross checking the prices manually) revealed that the market was inefficient.
This was an opportunity that could be ceased easily. I could buy books at cheaper prices and then sell it to other sites for a profit. A light bulb went on somewhere and it gave birth to my new venture Flippiness. Carpe Diem?
Ceasing the Opportunity
I went on to write Flippiness in next two hours; it was a quick and dirty version but worked nonetheless. I contacted Jay and we started flipping books ourselves. But, our other startups needed full attention so there was only so much time we could spend on flipping books. I had to stop it or reduce it to a minimum level. We still continue to do it, but only when we need money to promote Fan Harvest (Jay is the CEO, I am the CTO there).
Flippiness allows one to buy a monthly subscription for $40 a month and we give them links that could make them $40 or more per flip. There are other subscriptions including a free one that share information about flips that make lesser money.
I promoted Flippiness using Fan Harvest a little and got huge response. I now have enough number of subscribers to have a dedicated team working on Flippiness. We have about 30 machines running in the cloud that mine and analyze data for us. These machines are in addition to the database and web server that interact with our users.
So far, I have gotten offers from people who want to buy us out as well as marketing gurus who would like to partner with us to take it to the next level for a part of the revenue. We haven’t accepted any offer yet, but it has helped validate the idea. We have gotten emails where people want us to extend the same concept to other countries, which is something we are working on as I write this.
We are adding more users every single day. We are adding way more books than users, which means there are more opportunities for everyone who joins us. We currently only mine data from three book trading websites, but we are going to add a lot more soon.
Flippiness is a success that stemmed from a failure. If we look at Bookup from this perspective, it really was not a failure. Bookup was a stepping-stone. If we had not put everything into Bookup, we would never see this opportunity, for no one did it before us.
My take from this story is simple. If you are working on an awesome product but cannot see it getting the traction that it deserves, you should look at your solution from a different angle. May be you will find something else you could do to present it to a larger community. Bookup was meant for students and parents. Flippiness is for everyone who could use a little extra money.
What is your take from this story? Do you see any learning that I haven’t been able to notice? I would love to hear if you have been through a similar experience. Let us connect.