Failing Forward in Entrepreneurship, Education, and E-Commerce

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By Conor Flynn

Tesla reinvented the automotive industry. Airbnb reinvented the travel sector. Entreprenavel reinvented the entrepreneurship education experience…

Wait, what was that last one? You probably haven’t heard of Entreprenavel. This post-mortem analysis of my first venture will explain why.

The Vision

Initially, I set out to create a business travel and connection platform, similar to early iterations of Airbnb. Quickly realizing that I lacked the ingenuity or technical chops to accomplish this, I pivoted to creating an online education community for early-stage entrepreneurs. Entreprenavel embarked on a mission to reinvent the entrepreneur education experience by training the next generation of entrepreneurial leaders around the world.

This video explains Entreprenavel’s approach:

Unfortunately, Entreprenavel failed at its primary objective of training entrepreneurial leaders, as well as generating revenue.

What did I do wrong?

During a recent discussion with a member of the Radify Labs team, I was asked to offer advice for the promising online education startup, based on my experience in the sector. Embarrassed by my joke of a venture, I replied that Radify Labs had already made it much further than Entreprenavel, despite being in existence for about 10% as long.

This post is my attempt to distill the lessons that I learned through entrepreneurial failure into actionable advice. Broken into seven deadly sins, these lessons should help keep you out of the startup graveyard if you apply them well.

1. Don’t bother forming a core team.

Who cares about co-founders and core team members? You should.

I launched Entreprenavel alone and single-handedly dug my startup’s grave. That being said, I recruited a few unpaid, remote team members, but I severely mismanaged them, giving them no concrete guidance. Collaboration and core teams play vital roles in startup success, so you should never willingly attempt to build a venture alone. Many of the following mistakes could have been easily avoided if co-founders had held me accountable and questioned my thought processes.

2. Focus on your desires, rather than your customers.

Over the course of Entreprenavel’s life, I continually created content and products that I desired, rather than catering to my audience and target customers. Aside from conducting a few informational interviews, I didn’t even bother to learn about my target market’s needs and desires. What was the point of researching a market (early-stage entrepreneurs) that I was already part of? Maybe, if I had been open to more perspectives, I could have actually made some sales…

Toward the end of my startup journey, I realized the error in my ways and created a free online course on market research. Check it out if you hope to avoid this amateur pitfall.

3. Make zero marketing strategies.

Sharing links on social media and forums basically covered the extent of my marketing efforts. I took a completely scattershot approach, failing to design or implement any type of coherent marketing strategy.

Did I take a build-measure-learn approach to optimize sales? Absolutely not. Although I attempted to make my content search-engine friendly and generate a few backlinks, my SEO efforts were pitiful. I also hardly made decisions using analytics, mainly due to the small sample size. Additionally, I didn’t invest a single dollar in advertising, which I shall touch on later.

If you are starting an internet business, you better create a digital marketing strategy.

4. Spend virtually no money.

Smart entrepreneurs bootstrap, but idiots invest nothing in their businesses. Aside from purchasing the domain and hosting, I put nothing but time into Entreprenavel. Since you often need to spend money to make money, this decision was ludicrous. Would paid advertising and hiring freelancers have helped me? I will never know.

You should always set aside money to run experiments and discover the ROI for different marketing and sales strategies.

5. Hedge your bets.

While pursuing Entreprenavel, I continually worked on other projects and jobs. Since Entreprenavel was never my sole focus, I possessed little to no skin-in-the-game. I even wrote a blog post defending my decision to divert my attention away from Entreprenavel. Although I wanted Entreprenavel to succeed, it didn’t matter if things went South because I had several other options.

When a startup founder can’t even commit to his or her venture’s success, how can they expect other people to do so? It’s no surprise that people refrained from working for, investing in, or partnering with Entreprenavel. If you truly want your venture to succeed, start by showing a little commitment to your cause.

6. Stay inconsistent to keep your audience on their toes.

Since I was hedging my bets and focusing on my own desires, I pursued Entreprenavel in spurts. Going weeks at a time without creating content or updating the site, I sent a message of unreliability to my audience, especially newsletter subscribers and podcast listeners.

Consistency is key in blogging and podcasting. If you hope to build a loyal following, then you need to release content on a routine basis, ideally at the same time each week.

7. Forget about KPIs and Impact Metrics.

As you can see, I committed egregious errors in building Entreprenavel. Although the venture clearly failed to hit upon a sustainable business model, you may be wondering what type of impact Entreprenavel made on people’s lives. After all, the startup’s mission was to educate aspiring and early-stage entrepreneurs.

Did Entreprenavel benefit any business creators? I couldn’t tell you.

You see, I also failed to create any key performance indicators (KPIs) and track impact metrics. Without establishing metrics and setting goals, progress cannot be measured, and operations cannot be improved. No one will ever know how close Entreprenavel came to achieving its mission.

Failing Forward

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Determined not to repeat the same startup mistakes, I am launching a new venture, Social Sector Network, LLC. The goal of the venture is to cultivate support systems for early-stage entrepreneurs and sustainable development initiatives. Since the first deadly sin is not forming a core team, please reach out to me if you would like to join Social Sector Network as a co-founder.

Although I am finished working on Entreprenavel, the website will remain live to function as an educational resource. If you would like to improve upon the site, please reach out to me, and we can discuss passing along the keys to the kingdom.

I sincerely hope that you will learn from my mistakes and share your own lessons from your entrepreneurial endeavors!

(The article was first published here. Copyright resides with the author. Republished from Medium.com)

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