Success through failure

Posted by Michael Horn on Fri, Jul 11, 2014 @ 12:21 PM

Tonya Layman, Contributing Writer at the Atlanta Business Chronicle offers us this great article about learning from your mistakes as an entrepreneur. These are excellent lessons learned and advice for every entrepreneur. As an veteran and entrepreneur the key remains to endeavor to persevere.

Tonya Layman writes -- Failure is a harsh thing, especially in the business world. But it doesn’t have to be, said some technology company leaders at a recent event.

Last month, several speakers shared their own stories of failure at FailCon, an event sponsored by Atlanta Tech Village. The purpose of the event was to embrace mistakes and learn from them.

Michael Tavani, co-founder of Scoutmob, shared a number of lessons learned the hard way. The first is that entrepreneurs need to stay on task, especially as they are starting out.

“There are a lot of time bombs when you are starting anything. You have to be careful to work on the right things and things that will make a difference. That is a big thing a lot of entrepreneurs get wrong in the early days,” he said.

Another key to success is to dive in.

“So many people are waiting for the perfect idea and there is no such thing as the perfect idea. You just have to jump in,” he said. “I guess the best analogy is when you jump out of an airplane you will figure out how the parachute works on the way down.”

Tavani said a lot of entrepreneurs are afraid to do unscalable things, but those things can make a difference.

A week before Scoutmob launched, Tavani and his partner went out on a blustery night to staple 25 specially painted signs to telephone poles around Atlanta. They then blogged telling people to go find the signs and post pictures of them and they would gain entrance into Scoutmob’s launch party. Sure enough, 25 people did just that and got invited to the party.

“They were the biggest evangelists for Scoutmob and they had thousands of friends on social media and those friends have millions of friends on social media and that helped us build a business,” he said.

Prior to Scoutmob, Tavani co-founded SkyBlox, a Wi-Fi marketing company that offered service to local restaurants. It had a growing business in Atlanta but when Tavani and his partner tried to branch out to other markets, they didn’t get any bites.

“We were self-funded and running out of money. Our biggest fear, which is often the biggest fear of any entrepreneur, is that we weren’t going to last and we would have to go get real jobs,” he said.

That forced them to cobble together the things they had learned and create a new model.

Even Scoutmob has had its share of twists and turns.

“We shot out of the gates strong and had early success,” he said. “But we just recently had to let eight people go and there were articles saying we were going out of business.”

That is not the case, but the company is ever-changing, which is necessary to have sustained success in the marketplace, Tavani said.

Chad Adam, founder and CEO of HopInTop Inc., an Internet marketing firm specializing in SEO, social media, Web design, conversion and branding, is a self-taught entrepreneur who started working at the age of 10 loading trucks for his family’s business. Later in life, as he was running an online health insurance brokerage in Philadelphia, he taught himself how to do Internet marketing. Within two years his insurance company became the fourth-largest online health insurance brokerage in the United States.

He decided to sell the company after realizing that he could share his knowledge to help other businesses increase their revenue substantially. He started by creating a site where he could teach subscribers what he knew about optimized Web presence, marketing and converting visitors to customers.

The site featured journal entries and recorded videos sharing Adam’s best practices.

“We spent every free minute recording and editing and working on the site and actually got it done in six months. It cost $10,000 out of my pocket. We were just waiting for people to sign up and learn what they needed to know. I am an expert on this topic so I didn’t see what could go wrong but guess what — nothing went right,” he said.

People weren’t signing up. They thought they could get the same information on other sites for free. They thought the cost of $99 a month was too much so he lowered it to $49 a month but still people weren’t biting. And then the kicker — his partner started his own Internet marketing business, leaving Adam behind to handle the marketing.

Those “lessons learned” forced Adam to study up on consumerism. He is an avid reader who enjoys learning what drives consumers to action.

Today, Adam has taken that information to build HopInTop, which has quickly become successful, using past performance strategies by increasing traffic to clients’ websites, all while increasing their revenue. Working under the motto of “performance you can count on”Adam said being successful requires time, hard work and persistence.

Jeff Novich is no stranger to startup failures. He was the owner of two failed startups: FareShare, an app for taxi sharing, and Patient Communicator, a patient portal for medical practices.

He shared with the FailCon audience an autopsy of Patient Communicator, a portal created at the request of his father, who is a primary care doctor. As a busy practitioner, he was experiencing up to 200 calls into his office daily and wanted to direct some of that activity to the Web in order to optimize his practice. So Novich built a simple interface that allowed patients to log into a secure portal to take care of non-urgent requests.

“The transformation was actually pretty huge as he went from 200 calls a day to calls being slashed down to 50 a day, and within two years about 75 percent of his patients were using the site,” Novich said, adding this resulted in lower overhead and a reduction in staffing needs.

After seeing the impact on his dad’s practice, Novich got aligned with Blueprint Health, a health-care accelerator program, and started trying to sell the program to other doctors.

“The result: We got one doctor to pay us $50 a month for three months for the program,” Novich said, adding the reason it failed is that at the beginning they didn’t assess the market.

“This was a product first. It was not really a business and we found my dad was a market of one. We were spending all our time taking the product and trying to commercialize it to a broader market,” he said, but no one wanted it.

“We found the way to a doctor’s heart is to increase revenue without them having to change a single thing about their practice,” he said. “You have to do your homework. We built this thing in a vacuum,” he said, adding if only he would have Googled patient portals in the first place, he would have found options that would have worked for his dad without him reinventing the wheel.

“When you find other products, learn how they work, then you can figure out how you are different and fill in that gap. That is how you can get new customers in the door,” he said, adding by June of 2012 he lost passion for Patient Communicator and decided to end the quest to get it into doctor’s offices.

But that didn’t entirely deter him from entrepreneurship. Today, he keeps innovating. As product owner for Grockit, a Kaplan test prep company, he continues to be passionate about tech products.


A resource for entrepreneurs

SouthernAlpha Chief Operating Officer Ashely Eayre-Brammer shared with the FailCon audience that this online forum strives to be a community for startups, investors and developers. It exists to empower and educate entrepreneurs, offering news and insights about startups across the South. Through www.southernalpha.com, members of all the Southeastern communities can find, meet and inform each other through times of success and failure.

Tags: Entrepreneurs, Resources, Entrepreneurship, Small Business, startups