Lessons from a failed startup
In late 2016, I founded a startup named Prodo with a few friends. My job title was “Chief Technology Officer” (CTO). Our mission was to democratise programming by automating away common mistakes, powered by machine learning technology.
Unfortunately, things didn’t pan out. I left Prodo in late 2019, and the company shut down in mid-2020.
In failing to build a product-focused company, I have learned many things. Core to all of them is that a company is not a product. Ideas change, products change, people change. We “pivot”, rapidly, relentlessly, sometimes ruthlessly.
Managed well, change is a catalyst. Managed badly, it can be catastrophic.
I’d like to explain what went wrong, entirely from my perspective, how we might have done better (though hindsight is, of course, highly helpful in decision-making), and what I’d attempt to do if I were to try this again.
I have no regrets. I worked with excellent people, made some very cool technology, and had a lot of fun. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t learn anything from the whole experience. Failure can be healthy… unless you also fail to learn, and keep doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results.
I’d like to thank Tom Dawes, one of my co-founders and the Chief Product Officer of Prodo, for reviewing these posts and offering some excellent insights, which I have tried to incorporate.
You can read the first post in this series now, with more to come weekly.
- Focus on the problem, not the solution
- If the company goals change, the company should probably change too
- "Do research" is not a corporate strategy
- Your corporate values transcend your product vision
- Trust your gut, understand your heart, and open your mind
- Go to therapy with your co-founders
- Explore the terrain first
- Unless someone cares, don't waste your time
- Code is a liability; ship without coding, if possible
- Do less, and do it better
- Agile methods are tools to try more ideas in less time
- Until you have traction, money is a trap
- If you don’t know how to do it, that’s your biggest problem
- Roles can be fluid, but they must be defined
- Camaraderie is helpful, but no substitute for working together
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