Taking actions relentlessly in failures
My first entrepreneurial experience was a failure. After the military service, my friend and I decided to build our first startup, rawant.com. We wanted to “Make Your Doodles Happen” through a crowdsourcing social platform. Once you upload your innovative ideas, whether it’s a masterpiece or just a script, rawant.com would take care of the rest of it, including manufacturing, fundraising, and marketing. Revenues came directly from the sales commissions. I was in charge of two projects: the website development and physical products fundraising.
My first challenge was that, should we develop the website internally or outsource it? The upside for outsourcing was that we could testify our business model sooner, while the downside was that we could not iterate our design in response to user feedbacks. After consideration, I decided to develop the website by our team. I assumed that the incentives for those “inventors” derived from continuously constructive feedbacks from the crowdsourcing platform. Since the key drive of our model was the engagement of the users in the platform, we should focus on users’ needs and be able to modify user experience accordingly. So I started to learn the front-end engineering from Codecademy, and cooperated with my partners using PHP as back-end. I also implemented BootStrap framework to boost the development process. Rawant.com was online in September 2013, 4 months after the decision. We rolled out new functions each week in the very first month, including Facebook API, inMail messages, and invention following. As a result, we got 20,402 unique visitors, 305 register members, and 10 daily active users. However, other metrics, such as weekly register rate, daily active user rate, and the bounce rate, did not improve accordingly. It turned out that I made a bad decision to develop the website by ourselves.
The key issue was that I failed to testify the true needs of the platform users more quickly. In fact, what they really cared about was not the constructive feedbacks, but the chance to earn money back. What was worse, after long development process without pay, queries aroused in my team and we were not able to pivot right away. To turned it around, I thought I should encourage our team by delivering some little success and attracted more users to our website, so I launched a campaign to call for submissions and set a time frame about product manufacturing and fundraising. I changed myself from a front-end engineer to a more project manager role, and oversaw the workflows and schedules to get things done. What I did not expect was that some parterres started to feel that this was not fun as usual and decided to leave. Rawant.com finally closed the door in March 2014.
There were three things I learned from this failure: the passion of a team was rooted in continuous success; failures would never defeat me from taking actions; I was flexible enough to catch up the modern internet languages very quickly.
True power comes from integrity and commitments
My officer experience was not a success, too. I volunteered to finish my military service in Matzu, the front-line of Taiwan where you could return home only once every two months. As a company counselor, I was one of the three core leaders that in charge of a 100-privates troop. The challenge was that, I was lack of practical experience and soldiers would not follow me since I were a rookie indeed, even though I possessed a higher rank among them. What was worse, the company leader changed twice and a corporal committed a suicide in my tenure. However, I saw the opportunity to build up my leader image in that crisis. I did not blame on the master servant who was blamed to overload the pressure on the victim, rather I decided to take up the responsibilities. I realized the key issue was to eliminate the distrust internally and externally: both in my troop and in the family of the victim. Thus, I made an honest apology on behalf of the military and helped them gathered the compensation payment and other resources they needed. I also maintained the morale by organized remedy groups to let my soldiers understand that it was unfair to ask a single person to take charge of this tragedy. If there was one, it should be me, since I was the counselor who should prevent the tragedy from happening. Although I still received punishment in the end, I won the trust from my company and those officials in headquarter.
Find out the third way with innovation and execution
The third story was a true success: I increased 200% sales as a part-time sales promoter to sell water filter jugs in a weekend. On average, only 2 to 4 jugs of 3M were sold out on weekends. I figured out that there were three reasons: Firstly, the differentiation of jugs was rather limited comparing to the market leader, Brita, which took off 50% market share while 3M only had around 20%. In addition, the trial was not effective. Consumers were not able to recognize the differences in taste after filtering. Last one was even fatal: consumers still had to boil the water while using filter jugs. So who would buy this product? Because of this question, I decided to do something different. Eventually, I did not give the trial water to consumers in the supermarket randomly. Rather, I spread it out to my neighbors who sold pots and mops. They appreciated this kind action, since they were asked to stay right on the spot and were not able to grab a cup of water. They soon became my assistant when potential buyers approached. I also got the insight from my friend that the taste would be really different for coffeeholics after using filter jugs. Therefore, I gave up those advantages stated by my coach and emphasized on this benefit. It worked. I overcame the difficulty again and sold 8 jugs that weekend. As a part-timer I was not paid more, but I gained the confidence to try the innovative way under challenging situations.