How Our Team Failed and Yet Succeeded at the Same Time

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It’s been almost an entire month since Startup Weekend Orange County, but everything that went on at the event is still fresh in our minds. That Friday night was the first time each of us ever pitched a startup idea. Our team had come with the determined intent to build an app within the course of 54 hours, and we were to call it “IntroSpark”.

IntroSpark was going to be an app that would run on the mobile and web platforms and would enable people to connect with each other before an event, help them find each other at the event, and then help them follow up after the event.

Since we (now good friends and business partners) had met each other quite serendipitously at a startup-related mixer, we started thinking about how beneficial it would be for folks to no longer rely on serendipity and to instead have an app that would facilitate professional connections for them. We co-founded the idea based on our sheer desire to improve efficiency and to create an amazing product that would help optimize time networking and meeting the right people at events.

But as much as we were confident in our abilities to execute, not having first researched the true pain points of our target market would eventually hinder our app idea from pushing through as successfully as planned. The following day (Saturday) was when we gradually came to realize the importance of customer development and how it could make or break a
startup.

We were ready to rock and roll. Paper prototypes of IntroSpark and written-out business strategies were laid out on our table. But all these things didn’t seem to matter. Our product needed strong validation and the mentors were keen on telling us that it was a component we severely lacked. Amir Banifatemi from K5 was the first to point it out: “Focus on user acquisition. Don’t tell me your solution.” We had excitedly shared our vision for IntroSpark with them, complete with all the features we sought to include in the app and all its possible uses.

Still thinking that customers will simply come after the product was built, we kept iterating and brainstorming ways we would market IntroSpark. CEO of KISSmetrics, Hiten Shah, the speaker for that evening, then was the final mentor who critically advised us to take a step back and reevaluate the assumptions we had regarding IntroSpark’s users/customers and the “problem” we wanted to solve. He told us to really ask and delve into our target customers’ personal experiences and to accomplish that by doing something as simple as conducting a survey.

Long story short, after we spread out and came back to our base with the results of our survey, we discovered that our app did not really address that major of a pain point that would compel consumers to flock to our product to solve it. We had failed. And as ambitious early-stage entrepreneurs aspiring to be as great as the startup heroes that came before us, we knew we had to fail fast.

By the time we learned all this and wanted to pivot and steer in a much better direction, the night was almost over. Our team thus made the executive decision to wrap up working on our app idea and just use the final day of Startup Weekend to get ready to share our story in front of all the judges and the attendees.

That Sunday we had the best time listening through all the presentations and really hearing out what the judges had to say. Startup Weekend provided just as much an opportunity for us to learn from the people there, so we were definitely grateful to have been able to attend. When it was time for IntroSpark to present onstage, we remember our hearts pounding as we took our steps towards the podium to speak. We didn’t know what to expect. But we ended up overcoming all those doubts and fears because we sincerely wanted to reach out to our fellow entrepreneurs and just let them know what IntroSpark honestly went through over the course of this weekend.

We changed focus, we redeveloped our vision, and we grew as individuals as well as a team. All due to failing. From failing we learned to listen, strengthen our end goal, take initiative to act upon what we learned, adapt/ adjust accordingly, and be strong enough to continue moving forward no matter what.

For everyone at SWOC, thank you so much for all your kind words and support throughout the process and after the event. Thank you for believing in us. Thank you for sharing your space and your resources with us. Thank you for just plain being there with us. It has been an unbelievable and most memorable experience, and we are so glad to have found such a wonderful community to be a part of and to have the privilege of working with. Wherever we may go next, we know that whatever we took from this weekend will definitely bring us closer to accomplishing even more big things.

All the best,

Team IntroSpark
Mia Jamili, Emmanuel Mwangi, and Samuel Mwangi