Failing faster and cheaper

In 2003, when I was 23 and bored I wanted to have a startup. I knew my first one would be like a lemonade stand, just a practice one to see what it is like. I went on one of those websites where you can buy apps that are already making money.

The one I decided on was a website that hosted flash games and made money from ads. I learned a lot. The most important was that this person just stole and rehosted a bunch of flash games. Also, they most likely were paying a bit for ads leading up to the sale. It was pretty sketchy all around. The buyer even stole my name and details to use for the WHOIS information for his other websites.

I redesigned the site to optimize for ad placement. I added voting and live chat so the visitors could have more fun.

It didn’t exactly help. It took my 6 months to slowly see my traffic fall and fall until it was at 0 a year later. I think I made about $1,000 back on my $3,000 investment. I was pretty blown away you could just put up a random website and make even that much from ads though!

Back then, I couldn’t think up many startup ideas. I still think it is worth it to buy one that already makes a little money and try to optimize it. I could have done so a lot cheaper though.

This last month, I tried out another failed start-up and it cost me $12 this time.

It was a landing page to schedule remote tech help for your Chinese parents.

Just how did I arrive at this weird niche?

Long story short. I am part of a hidden forum of VC funded startups in Silicon Valley. I saw another startup launching their remote tech support in the USA and no less than 5 different startup founders asked them to add Mandarin to their service because their immigrant parents have such a hard time with tech.

I have been based in Shanghai since my company was acquired last year and realized everyone around me could provide Mandarin tech support to seniors pretty cheaply.

Sensing an easy opportunity, I threw together a free trial website on Strikingly and made it a challenge to get someone to schedule a call.

I didn’t have my tech support team yet, but luckily I found these guys.

Do you recognize them?

How about a really zoomed in?

Look at his neck
Look at her teeth

I just put some asian computer generated faces to stand in. Could you tell something was off?

I couldn’t tell the difference until I showed my designer friend and she pointed out all these differences. She knew immediately. What is wrong with that guys neck? Why is there a tooth some growing in the center of the girls mouth?

I sent their images to several people I knew and asked if they recognized anyone in the photos. They didn’t notice anything off. Only designers can tell I guess.

Of the 5 potential customers who originally expressed interested, one responded so I followed up with another email and got two more responses.

All in all, they gave different reasons for retracting their original interest in this product. They are interested, but not interested enough to put down money. Turns out you don’t really know where someone stands until you put the credit card form in front of them. This time it only cost me $12 a few weeks to figure it out though.