My Start-up Failed and It’s All My Fault- Friency App

My Start-up Failed and It’s All My Fault. What I learned in my start-up failure and how you can determine if and when to cut your losses.

Suhaib Ajlouni

3/28/202311 min read

This is a story that I’ve contemplated telling many times. I know it’s interesting. I know it’s unique. I hope that it could be helpful, maybe even inspiring, or at the very least comforting, for some other hopeful aspiring entrepreneurs out there. However, this is a hard one to write. This is a story that, if I let myself sit back and think about what happened, makes me feel sad and guilty toward myself and the people who trusted me. This is a story that I’ll never forget. I don’t talk about it much. I’ve never told most of my friends the details. It is too personal. I failed. I can’t even really say “we” failed since so much of this and the ultimate decision to shut it down was all me. However, I know these are the stories that we all need to be telling more about. I know there are so many out there, just like me, who’ve had early failures. Even late failures. Failures after successes. That’s what we want to hear! That gives people like me, who risked it all and failed, the encouragement to know we’re not alone and things will be better.

I’ll share with you some helpful takeaways that you may be able to apply to your current start-up or other future start-ups down the line. I’m going to break this down into four sections the what, the why, the aftermath (what’s next for me?), and the takeaways (what you can learn and apply to your situation).

First, let’s get into “THE WHAT”

To understand my start-up failure story, you’ll need to understand a bit about the idea, and the journey. The idea began out of desperation to solve a problem. I have been living in Germany for six years, and I struggle a lot with meeting new people and making friends I tried many apps but none of them were able to solve my problem so in January 2022 I had the goal to build an app that connects people and build it in my free time (as if that existed), so I started building the team and the app while working full-time in an automotive company which itself was a challenging job but I believed in my ability to be able to manage both. I was very confident about the idea and my commitment to building the solution because I wanted to make an impact, bring a necessary creation into the world, and solve a real problem. I had been a part of other start-ups before, but this was the first time I was venturing out on my own, risking all my time, my career, and all my savings. A bit about the idea, just so you know what we’re talking about here. With the app would create an account, and fill out some information: your studies, career, and trips you did then the algorithm will connect you with people based on your life paths.

Second, let’s get into “THE WHY”

The project in total was looking to cost more than 50,000 euros. That meant that development and marketing alone were already demanding 5-figures. I was the only investor, and it was 100% bootstrapped by me. Some friends-and-family investors would have been willing to put in another up to 100,000 euros or so if needed, but I would not let them risk that. Not once I realized the challenges of the entire project. The idea itself was a good one. Unfortunately, I was focusing on building the app and solving the problem and I thought the money part will come later if I provide value people will pay for it, but when we started the marketing planning and calculating the customer acquisition cost and the customer lifetime value made the entire project very tricky and risky from an investment point of view. I’m never going to trash the initial idea or the business model. They weren’t bad, and in the right capacity, with the right delivery, the right marketing strategy, and the appropriate funding, they are doable and could work.

But I believe that it wouldn’t have worked for me due to these reasons:
  • Marketing Team: We didn’t have deep marketing expertise. We didn’t have digital marketing expertise. We just weren’t skilled in the right areas. We were learning as we went, but that made everything more challenging. This idea was good and possibly could have been successful with the right strategy and execution. However, the right strategy and execution required a team with the skills and experience we simply didn’t have.

  • Funding: We needed more money, but I wasn’t willing to risk more of my savings or to allow the friends-and-family investor to risk more of theirs. I could have looked for investors or those with expertise and connections in this world of start-ups (social networks, tech apps, etc.), but I didn’t believe in the success potential enough to ask for what I felt we needed.

  • Tech Team: I had outsourced some of the development work to save time as I was working full-time and had limited time for development. I paid the tech team on a feature, project-by-project basis. They were not full-time, they were not a part of our marketing or strategy team, and they were not emotionally invested in the app’s success. If I could change one thing, the first thing I would do is I would work full-time on the idea and build the entire application by myself.

I think this idea could have had wings, and perhaps with tens of thousands of euros to throw at the right influencers as early adopters, who could also promote it to their fan base, it could have done well. I could probably identify flaws in our marketing strategy and limitation in our monetization plan, but those wouldn’t be the primary reasons we failed. They were part of the reason I quit. I knew our marketing strategy needed a lot of money. But this comes back to funding. Marketing itself wasn’t the problem. Competition may have been a challenge, but again, with good marketing, we would have outshined our competitors, this alone was not enough to make me call it when I did. But if I truly believed I could grow this thing into a successful app, which people love. As I have planned, these challenges would haven’t pushed me away. It all came down to my belief that I wasn't ready, and the time was not the right time and that was a hard thing to admit. That didn’t have to mean the end. I could have tried to hire someone else as an operator, a CMO, or even the day-to-day CEO…but when I looked at the amount of money required, coupled with the shortcomings of our team, I just couldn’t make sense of trying to construct a brand-new team around this flailing idea. We had a fully functional App. Technically, I could have scaled it to million users… But I had a doubt. That’s the truth. I was worried that I was about to throw more money than I had at something that I knew, it is a bit of a lost cause.

It wasn’t worth it. I wanted to quit…so I did. On 1ST of June 2022, we were planning out and finalizing our marketing campaigns. I had just launched the app on the stores and made sure the app was working perfectly. We were just about to start the marketing when I had to pull the plug. I had been feeling uneasy about this for weeks. In the evening of that day, I was thinking, I’m now an “entrepreneur” — whatever that meant — was I going to pull the plug and quit the only thing that made me an entrepreneur? Then what would I be? A loser? A failure? A quitter? I didn’t even know. But I knew I could quit, and pre-emptively “fail” now, strategically and on my terms, or I could keep going down with the ship I knew was suffering a big gaping hole and fail later…along with everyone else involved. The longer I waited, the more we spent, and the farther along we got, I knew it would only get worse. The longer the delay, the more expensive and more long-term and negative the effects of the failure would ultimately be. So, that’s exactly what I did. On the 30th of June 2022, I told my team the truth about what I was thinking, how I was feeling, and why I believed cutting our losses was the best option at the time. When you get that far down the line in the entrepreneurial journey, it almost feels like you’re on a fast-moving car, speeding towards something unknown, I felt I was driving in the wrong direction, so I had to stop. That’s honestly exactly how I felt and how I still feel about my decision to cut my losses with that start-up. Don’t get me wrong; I wanted it to work. I wanted to believe in it. We had a cool app. We had an interesting idea…But sometimes the risks and required sacrifices outweigh all that. Sometimes the problem isn’t that you know too little; it’s that you know too much.

Sometimes you know so much that it all becomes so scary and you’re too afraid to make the call you know you should. That’s exactly how I felt. But sometimes you must ask yourself if you’re simply throwing good money, or time in the wrong direction.
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But I believe that it wouldn’t have worked for me due to these reasons:Here’s what happens when you risk your well-paid and secure corporate career, sink 5-figures of savings into a start-up, deem it a failure, and quit. A lot happened:
  • I find out that I am more of a doer than a visionary, I build and launch an app fully 100% bootstrapped by me in just a few months.

  • I meet great people, checked more than 1,000 CVs, had more than 100 interviews in 3 months, and I convinced 6 people to work with me.

  • I learn a LOT, I learned how to build a team, design an app, manage finance, even register a company in the UK, and launch an app on the Play store & Apple store.

  • I got to know my strengths and weakness better.

And I felt so relieved that I wasn’t spending my resources at an irredeemable rate and wanted to save it for the next idea where I am more confident. And that just confirmed that I had made the right decision, but it was a harder decision than you can probably imagine. Once I resolved in my mind to quit, I was able to take a step back and assess what had gone wrong. I was even able to congratulate myself for the few things that I felt had gone right. I didn’t have to be defined by that failure, especially since that failure was on my terms. I learned and grew a lot from that experience. So, what was next for me?

  • Diving deeper into technical expertise epically app development: During that start-up journey, I began diving into and learning a lot about app development. On 15th July 2022, I joined a great company with a great product leading a team building an application.

  • Embracing my newfound passion: Mentoring my team gave rise to other ideas and inspiration. I was inspired by the idea of mentoring others. I was inspired to consider the coaching, consulting, resource-sharing, and collaboration opportunities out there for people.

  • Doing more myself better: With Friency, so much of what we were doing was complex, new, and over my head that I really couldn’t know where to start. I felt like my hands were tied, simply due to my lack of necessary skills, especially in design and marketing (I’m talking about everything from drafting some user flows using Figma, to creating ads, to writing email marketing content. I do it all. Or at least I try). With every company, I worked at. I’ve been as hands-on as I could, and I still am. But when you build your own company, it is a different level of being hands-on so now.

  • One unlikely positive outcome from Friency: I found a better idea that I am very passionate about MenteeGuru – Read more about MenteeGuru

The takeaways (what’s in it for you?):

Here’s what you can learn and how you can apply the lessons from my failure story to your current or future ventures:

  • Understand your product and get someone on your core team who covers the core parts which you can’t cover (founding member and equity-holder): The last thing you want is to be responsible for the success of the whole product, service, marketing, or technology that you, don’t understand. In my opinion, if you lack a core skill, it is hard to work. Maybe occasionally this results in success, but it will be through a much more difficult and costly journey.

  • Know the start-up finance requirements up-front and overestimate: It doesn’t do you, your company, or even your investors any good to pretend you can build a great app for 10,000 € if you need 100,000€. It’s only going to result in one of two things, or likely a combination of both: failure and/or disappointment. Just be honest and realistic upfront. If you need 500,000 €, then say that you need 500,000 €. There’s no shame in knowing what you need and seeking it out. Trying to cut unrealistic corners isn’t going to end up all too well.

  • Know yourself (strengths & weaknesses): There’s no use to fake it, especially when it comes to building a company. Yes, you can learn new skills, but if you’re a technical expert building a tech company and relying on teaching yourself the marketing strategies tomorrow, you may find you’re a little late to the game. There are people out there who’ve been doing it for decades, and they’re ready for hire. If it isn’t your strength or your passion, delegate. Why not? Otherwise, you’re wasting your time and focusing on the least output you can produce with your time. Your start-up journey is too important to be delayed by your unwillingness to find and hire the right talent for the right job.

  • Prepare for a long ride: Building a product is a long ride. My first few months were painful. The one thing I can guarantee you is that there will always be a new problem you need to solve. Things you’ve never even dreamed could happen will happen in the worst times. I know, it sucks; that’s entrepreneurship. It’s hard. It’s unpredictable at times. It’s one of those things where you must get ready to roll with the challenges, even though they will sometimes knock the breath out of you and your entire team. You don’t get into start-ups just for the money; you must be in it with the understanding that it is not an easy path but it’s still worth it. It’s worth it because this is your dream, your vision, and the power which wakes you up every day excited to change the world and have an impact. You have an incomparable, insatiable desire to pursue this path, and abandoning that for anything else feels like abandoning your true self. If that’s you, then you are an entrepreneur, you just need to embrace it and get ready for a long, difficult, challenging but amazing ride.

Why am I telling you this story at all?:

To be honest, just writing this alone has been therapeutic for me. I’ve never just sat down to reflect and go deep into the details of my idea failure. I’ve rethought each aspect in my head many times. However, sharing it in writing with you who wasn’t here or wasn’t an integral part of the story. It’s very interesting getting vulnerable like this online and with strangers. I have never done it, but I think with this story, the potential outcome of sharing will do more positive than negative. Maybe someone will be inspired to start their start-up, and not fearing to fail, I failed, and I am doing well, If the time goes back, I will do it again for the experience, it's worth it. We can be open and honest and vulnerable, and it doesn’t reveal a weakness, but rather the intent to work together and share experiences.

Thanks for taking the time to read my story. I am looking forward to sharing with you about my next adventure MenteeGuru! Stay Tuned!