Five takeaways from having to fold a startup called Grinnit

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This is a story from a founder who finally decided it was time to fold a startup that wasn’t gaining traction.

After lots of introspection and sleepless nights, we’ve decided to put Grinnit on a permanent hiatus.

We thought the best way to seek closure would be to share our story with the world.

We’re going to lay out our lessons learned with Grinnit, in hopes that others in the startup community working on bringing their passions to market can use our “folding” as a means of self-reflection.

For all of you toiling away, across the street from the graveyard, let’s chat. Self doubt is a natural part of this journey. A need to ‘change the world’ gets you only so far. An irregular, and often irrational, notion of invincibility often leads you down a rabbit hole. You can’t turn around, so you keep burrowing.

Take 5 minutes and read below. Sound familiar? Then take another 10 minutes to take a walk and reflect.

  1. Understand where you fit in your market

Know your competition well without letting it cloud your judgement or distract you.  It’s important to know your market inside and out, and how your product is/will be positioned. In the photo space, and more specifically photo collaboration, we saw competitors quickly emerge since we started down this path in October. Each approaches solving photo collaboration differently, and each brings about a new problem: photo noise.

 

  1. Focus on the problem you are solving

When we first started Grinnit (then called Invizual), we wanted to solve a costly collaboration problem for businesses that rely on photographic information from distributed teams.  We kept it LEAN, and through customer discovery and pre-sales evaluations, realized we were solving a problem for a relatively small market that required costly client acquisition and retention costs.

With the help of our new colleagues in the MassChallenge companies, we realized we had the capability to solve a much larger perceived problem of gathering and organizing photos from a group of people near and far, but focused around a common event or theme – and Grinnit was born.

Some might call it a “Pivot” but we called it “listening to smart people and trying to solve their larger problems.”

And we did it.  Grinnit’s Alpha software got everyone’s photos together, whether taken with our smartphone app or a DSLR, and put them in one place and organized them.  Problem solved.

What we realized, through our experiments and use of the projects by our emerging competition, is that this then raises a few new issues:

  • Empty, impersonal galleries suck – nobody wants to be the first to add a photo.  There needs to be something in there, or the gallery needs to be created by a person that is close to the contributor or content that resonates.  This is why when you check out the public galleries on competing products, you see empty content containers.
  • When you have a “successful” gallery, you end up with a new problem: too many unimportant / low quality photos.  We had galleries with participation so high that there would be hundreds and hundreds of photos from only a handful of contributors.  Nobody wanted to look through this, let alone curate their own version.  Time on site and bounce rates were abysmal because people opened the window, checked out a couple, and closed the window.  Our competitors are also facing the same problem.
  • This then creates a “filtering” problem: either the user behavior (due to product branding or user experience) prompts contributors to only add photos that are high quality / high relevancy – what we came to call a “front end filter,” or there needs to be a sophisticated “back end filter” technology, preferably personalized, that lets you hide the content that’s not important to you.
  • Personalized filtering, or rather the “interestingness” of photos becomes an issue when large batches of photos are shared amongst a group of people, large or small. The more photos, the more of a distraction the data set becomes (and the less likely the user will find the content to be personally relevant). We saw where the market is going, and realized we were ill-equipped to tackle a BIG, hairy filtering problem that encompasses machine learning, sexy algorithms, and a bit of magic.  The Corporate R&D departments and University researchers working on this problem are going to eventually solve it.  Our solutions were just not robust enough for us to be satisfied.
  • When we arrived at the filtering problem, we realized that we had solved the collaboration problem.

 

  1. Trust your founders and hold each other accountable

On January 20th, we drafted founders agreements that detailed our commitments to one another and accomplishments we felt were necessary for success, and a pledge to re-evaluate in 6 months – which was Monday, June 20th.  We hit many of our milestones and commitments, but there were many pieces of the puzzle missing. Sure, we could have overlooked them, but it would have been a disservice to each other and those that supported us.

 

  1. Know thy strengths & weaknesses

None of our founding team had ever completed the crash course within a consumer web startup.  Much of our journey was spent better understanding user behavior and coming up to speed in a highly competitive, quickly evolving space.  We ultimately came to the conclusion that our weaknesses coupled with a few constraints would hinder our ability to 1) successfully compete and 2) win within the market. Believe us, we like to win, but know when to pull our bets from the table. That brings us to…

 

  1. Know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em

Poker players call it Pot Committed: it’s psychologically easier to keep your hand if you’re financially/personally vested, than to fold. You’re not willing to cut the cord, hoping an unforseen circumstance will rekindle the magic. Pot Committed players almost always lose big.  In the end, stick to your gut before you’re belly up.

 

Maybe you’ve never been in this situation, but maybe you know someone that is.

Spread. The. Word.

Help others in a similar situation.
By all means, don’t let our story dissuade you from pursuing your dreams – just take a mature look at whether it’s worth the sacrifice you’re making.

 

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