What Do You Do With a Failed Product?

folyo-old

Today I’d like to talk about the new Folyo homepage, which I just pushed live yesterday.

But first, let’s step back a little. Two years ago, I went to San Francisco for the first time. I had already worked with startups from the area, but actually being there was a completely different experience.

Instead of the big fancy companies I had pictured, I realized most startups consisted of just two or three founders, or sometimes even just a single person coding away in a café.

So it’s no wonder I started thinking that maybe I too could give this whole startup thing a try. After all, being a freelance designer was nice, but you were always working for others. I wanted to build something I could proudly call my own.

Picking an Idea

When it was time to find a startup idea, I came up with two concepts. The first one was called Talkbee, and was pretty much the exact same idea as Clarity. I ended up ditching that idea when I realized its scope was probably too big for me to build on my own.

The second idea was Folyo, and it’s the one I picked. If you’re not familiar with the product, Folyo is a design job board that connects companies with a community of hand-picked freelance designers.

The Launch

I did everything by the book (or so I thought at the time): I launched an MVP to validate the concept, then hired a developer to code the app, pushed out a couple blog posts (a few of which even went viral), and then waited for things to take off.

Coincidentally, I adopted the exact same approach to build an MVP as Folyo competitor Ooompf, using MailChimp and Wufoo to build a simple email list. In fact, before being called Folyo the service was simply known as “The List”.

They didn’t. Two years later Folyo still doesn’t have any momentum, and there are weeks when not a single new conversion occurs.

A Slow Death

I wish this was the part where I explain what I did wrong, and how A/B testing the homepage’s call to action from “Start Now” to “Get Started” tripled conversion rates and finally brought the service the success it deserved.

But sorry, I don’t have any key insights to share. In fact, I don’t think I did anything particularly wrong. It’s just that I didn’t do anything particularly right, either.

For these past two years, Folyo has existed in a mediocre middle-ground: some people love the service, some hate it, but most people probably just forget about it quickly and move on.

As less people used the site, I also found it hard to stay motivated, which meant the site became stagnant, which in turns resulted in even less people used it… A death spiral of “meh”.

I suspect this is what happens to most projects anyway. The traditional “failed startup” tale usually implies the startup succeeded at some point: they raised money and then squandered it away, or attracted users but then lost them. I never even got that far.

A New Beginning

So what do you do with that kind of project? Do you simply let it die? Do you sell it off? Do you repurpose the code and user base, pivoting to something that works?

Nothing so dramatic in my case. After considering all these options, I decided to look at things in a different light.

Sure, after two unsuccessful years maybe it’s time to hang up the gloves and move on. But then again, it’s the “me” from two years ago who’s been unsuccessful. The “me” from 2013 has yet to give it his best shot.

That makes a huge difference. In two years of failing (with Folyo) and succeeding (with some of my other projects), I’ve learned a ton about coding, design, and marketing. What would happen if I put all these new skills to use?

A Different Approach

So I’ve decided to give it one more try, and here’s what I’m doing different this time around:

  • Concentrating on making a good product, instead of “validating ideas” with half-assed MVPs.
  • Working with a co-founder (ex-Sharypic CTO Christian Blavier) instead of trying to do everything myself.
  • Plugging existing holes in the funnel before worrying about drumming up traffic.
  • Not worrying about competitors. I know they exist, but whether I fail or not is up to me.

I’ve started this new development push with a few concrete improvements:

  • I rethought the homepage’s message from the ground up to really explain what Folyo does, instead of just projecting a nice image (compare with the old homepage).
  • I overhauled the overall style and refreshed the app’s UI (succumbing to the flat design trend in the process…).
  • I refactored most of the CSS and made the site responsive.
  • I implemented automated emails with Vero to re-engage users and prevent them from dropping out of the funnel.

We’ll see if these steps have any impact on the site or not. In any case, seeing how badly it’s currently doing, I doubt it can hurt!

What If…?

But what if my business model is fundamentally flawed? What if I have the wrong strategy? What if I get beaten by the competition…?

It’s exactly these kind of questions that caused me to be tentative and move too slowly the first time around. So this time I’m thinking less, and doing more.

I should know pretty quickly if I can turn things around or not. So the worst that can happen is that I lose one or two months of work, while in the process gaining more valuable experience that will help me avoid future mistakes.

So take a look at the new Folyo and let me know what you think! And I’d love to hear any feedback or ideas you have on giving a failed project a second chance, either here or over at Hacker News.

P.S. In my next post, I’ll dig in deeper into the redesign, and examine my design choices. I suggest you sign up to my newsletter if you’d like to get an early look.

P.P.S. If you’d like to hear more about failed projects, you can also sign up for the next Startup Edition newsletter to read other entrepreneurs’ response to the question, “How do you know when to pivot?”.

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