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5 signs your startup is screwed

JR Raphael | Jan. 5, 2016
The founders of failed startups share lessons learned along the way -- and signs of impending doom they wish they'd spotted sooner.

"Our business plan was changing every week," Fridriksson writes. "We went from focusing only on football to becoming [an] app for all sports."

Pumodo's mantra, according to Fridriksson, was "think bigger" -- a plan that also didn't pan out for Jeanette Cajide, founder of folded mobile app Blurtt (yes, Blurtt).

"Ideas are a dime a dozen; the difference is in the execution," Cajide notes. She should know: Her startup went through four different business models before finally calling it quits.

That brings us to our next sign that something might be amiss...

Failure sign No. 2: Your vision's been twisted out of your control

Blurtt started out as a place where you could pay two bucks to create a custom physical postcard from your phone and have it sent to someone in the mail. A year later, it shifted its model to being a free service supported by ads on the back of each printed postcard.

A year after that, the company pivoted again and became a "mobile platform of micro-gifting and greeting cards" -- whatever that means. Soon thereafter, it tossed that idea aside and tried to convince people to download its app for creating digital "blurtts," which were basically images with text-based captions stamped on top. (Where have we seen that before?)

"In the end, the passion and magic was lost," Cajide says. "Remember why you started this in the first place and never lose sight of it, because once it becomes something you are not happy doing, you shouldn't be doing it."

Speaking of which, remember Secret? It was an anonymous message-sharing tool that was all the rage among Silicon Valley insiders for a few minutes in 2014. It was also a startup with serious money under its belt: a valuation of more than $100 million at its peak.

But all that cash couldn't keep the train a-chuggin': After struggling to deal with complaints of bullying and baseless rumormongering (gee, who woulda thunk on an anonymous message-sharing app?) -- and simultaneously facing a troubling trend of declining use -- the company shut down and returned its money to investors after a mere 16 months on the market.

Secret went through several evolutions along the way, shifting its design and philosophy to try to address complaints and keep everyone happy. In the end, its co-founder, David Byttow, said the startup was no longer the entity he had set out to build.

"Secret does not represent the vision I had when starting the company," he wrote, "so I believe [shutting down is] the right decision for myself, our investors, and our team."

 

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