What I Learned from Conducting an Autopsy of My First Failed Startup
During my first startup’s brief run, I made a lot of mistakes when it came to building a strong brand and marketing infrastructure. Having to accept that it simply wasn’t viable was one of the hardest realizations of my life.
I decided to conduct an autopsy of Wish Dish to salvage the best assets and learn from areas that didn’t pan as anticipated. My short-lived startup experience might look like a failure to some, but after some deeper reflection, I saw past the mistakes. I realized you can’t build a sustainable company on the basis of a brand that isn’t sturdy and logical.
Taking a thorough inventory of my time building Wish Dish also revealed how many things we did things right. The operational manuals we created for every aspect of the business enabled it to almost run itself in the hands of a great team. That’s just one win we’ve carried over to BW Missions.
Here’s the biggest lesson I learned: The best way to start launching a business is by building a real platform for others to share their stories. This lightbulb moment felt like skipping past all the undergrad business 101 courses and jumping right into an MBA.
Let’s break down what this really means. A social platform is built on social building blocks.
Creating a singular brand as one person from the ground up is much more intuitive than an integrated brand with crowdsourced content. The latter involves many more moving pieces and requires advanced technologies like graph data and machine learning.
Once I establish my personal brand, I can take a data-driven approach to transition a future company into a more sophisticated business model with unique brand relationships. Putting the moving pieces a social platform requires in place demands a much more strategic and thoughtfully planned out approach.
Right now, I’m laser-focused on building a bullet-proof brand from the ground up. BW Missions gives me an opportunity to work my hardest to get everything right this time that went wrong at Wish Dish while taking the biggest wins with us.
All of these insights are categorized into specific takeaways from a branding, marketing, and process standpoint.
Step One: Putting Yourself in Your User’s Shoes
Define Your Audience Before You Build a Product
-This time around, I built user archetypes before I even started. I decided to specifically target CEOs and authors- the best market to accelerate growth.
-These experts have the right experience to teach me how to build a business, and my skills are perfectly suited to helping them build and growth communities of their own.
- For the discovery, I surveyed founders/authors about their biggest pain points, like obstacles they faced while building their brands, which challenges consumed the most resources, and which activities they simply don’t have time for.
-Building hours of content and messaging for hundreds of people every week is not something a hyper-focused CEO would want to do Guess who can, though? Me!
- Back in 2016, younger Bryan was full of unchecked dreams. I thought my user base for Wish Dish would include everyone in the world, from college kids to CEOs and pro athletes.
-Since I thought my platform was something everyone needed, I launched a product without a core user base in mind. Plot twist: everyone didn’t; that’s just not possible.
-I didn’t conduct any discovery besides throwing a bunch of people into a Facebook group and calling it a “community.”
- Since I didn’t know how to define a cohesive community, it was extremely difficult to create content that spoke directly to the hearts of these members who I cared so deeply about.
-Everyone was just extremely different, so they all had varied interests.
Reach Your Audience with Clear Messaging & a Targeted Tagline
Look at this tagline. What on earth does “a real community” really mean?
-The “About Us” section, with its generic anchor text, doesn’t really describe what the platform does. Who is Wish Dish really intended for? Users are left to wonder for themselves.
-All of these ambiguities come from trying to speak to everyone; in the end, that speaks to no one in particular.
-The BW Missions tagline speaks right to the heart of the entrepreneur.
-As founders, we’re all building things we believe that matter to the world
-The “about” section, labeled My Story,My Story,tells my story in detail. It explains why I became an entrepreneur and how I explore untrodden territory and refuse to let others to define my path.
Curate a Color Palette That Puts Your Best Face Forward
- Wish Dish, a platform built around the core concepts of empathy, vulnerability, and sharing fundamental truths about the human condition…
… uses the colors red and black.
-From a brand research perspective, nothing about red and black is warm, comforting, or open. Using these colors made zero sense.
-When people asked me why I chose them, I had to answer that they were my college colors. I wasn’t designing for the user. I was designing for myself!
-BW Missions’ blue and the tan shades draw you in with a sense of comfort and authenticity. I didn’t want the standard white background, since we don’t work with just average people.
-These colors look good across all our assets, from the website to business cards and thank you notes.
-Establishing a standard set of colors really has helped us with design. Many people have mentioned how easy the website is to navigate. It’s crucial to use a background with clean colors that are easy on the eyes.
Typography Tips: Reflect Your Company’s Ethos in Every Detail, Even the Font
-We designed the site for entrepreneurs, so we also wanted it to have a sense of boldness
- There was no thought behind the brand typography. It’s just a regular font.
-When you think about the platform, it should be a font that is secure, but also soft in a way. Having a super stark and bold font for a platform built on emotion doesn’t make much sense.
-In comparison, the typography on the new BW Missions platform is very intentional.
-The new font still sends a strong impression across, but it also manages to balance its other aim to draw the reader in.
-At the time, I didn’t realize why this was important, but looking back, I’ve come to believe it is critical.
Lasting Logos with A Clear Meaning
Set Companies Apart from the Competition
-The Wish Dish logo has a cursor at the end, like the blinking one that shows up in a digital document when you’re writing more words.
-This idea is too complicated to express as a static image, so it comes across as a bit vague.
-This need for clarification could apply to anything.
-Reflecting on the emotion I wanted to capture and share through our platform, now I’d choose an entirely different logo that makes more sense at face value.
-Since I started this brand to bring together the network of people, skills I had, and visions, the idea was to make something simple after my own name.
-That’s why we included BW, my initials.
- “BW Missions” is slanted upward was to show our focus on “progression.” The people we work with are always striving towards continuous improvement. We work relentlessly to make them better. The upward slant mirrors how we it can help facilitate that growth for them.
Imagery is the Key to Catching Your Audience’s Eye – And Keeping it
-Wish Dish has hardly any images at all except within the story pages users share.
-We also used a lot of stock images for the story photos, which is not best practice.
-Again, this website was about people’s stories, so we should have used personal pictures to reflect the intimate aspects of their lives they shared.
-Since I put my name behind BW Missions, I decided to use personal pictures rather than generic stock images.
The website has my own photos on it to showcase clients I’ve worked with in the past.
-For example, the “Work With Us” cover image features me and my friends in the entrepreneurial space
-As a personal brand, I wanted to make BW Missions feel human and relatable. The idea of putting random images on my personal branded website didn’t seem like an effective way to start fostering real connections.
Step 3: Media & Content Strategy
Future-Proof the Brand Name so it Can Evolve with You as Your Business Grows
-Wish Dish is pretty limited, so didn’tt give us a lot of room for growth
-Many people commented that it sounded like a cooking channel
-As a brand name, it simply didn’t speak to the nature of our mission
BW Missions hits the nail on the head. It emphasizes the missions we forward and the people behind them, who we are fully behind.
-The plural “Missions” shows we can work with many people at once and still have a true central and dedicated team committed internally
-I want our clients to think of us as a business as well, not just as a one-man consultancy. I think this new brand name speaks to the dynamic value we’re trying to offer.
Share Content on Social Strategically
-With Wish Dish, our main issue was sharing content very inconsistently. At the time, I didn’t know how to run a content or media platform.
-We planned on sending out a newsletter once a month, but in reality, it was more like every three months.
-Our social posts were honestly boring, and the article headlines didn’t draw people in. We also used social too infrequently, and didn’t have an audience on platforms like Facebook.
-In the end, I learned how badly you need to have distributed audiences across multiple channels to really spread your ideas.
-If you look at how we share content, the core value lies in its consistency.
We send out our newsletter bimonthly to our established audience
We share posts on LinkedIn regularly about growing businesses and the lessons we’ve learned along theway
You heard it here first: we’re launching a podcast called One Away shortly and couldn’t be more excited!
All the content we share is consistent with high quality.
No PR Means No Visibility
-I barely went after PR for Wish Dish, and when I tried to, it was really hard
-At face value, the product didn’t make a lot of sense to people until they spent at least 10 minutes on the website.
-We didn’t make enough of an effort to raise brand awareness and elevate peoples’ opinions of our business.
Besides the story themselves, it was almost impossible to garner media attention. We didn’t have a brand narrative, and telling PR specialists we were going to be the next Medium wasn’t drawing appeal. As a brand, Wish Dish simply didn’t have a coherent story behind it.
PR is generated from having consistency across all aspects of your business. Manufacturing a newsworthy event like a book launch is the best way to garner organic press.
-Our platform has been featured everywhere from Thrive Global to a dozen different podcasts and beyond. Little effort has been put into this ..
-Clients are not only talking about the success we’ve helped them achieve; they’re also referring us to new accounts as a trusted partner.
-Much of this PR has been inbound, rather than me begging a contributor to write about us.
Step 4: Product Development
Develop a Product People Actually Want to Buy and Use Regularly
-I created Wish Dish without giving any thought to what we would sell and how we would sell it.
-Since we didn’t have funding, it was hard to keep the lights on for more than a year and half
-I think it’s morally wrong to try to monetize this type of platform where people share personal, intimate stories using subscriptions or pay walls.
-In retrospect, the B2C play I would take would be writing a book and converting it into speaking engagements.
-I could have also taken a B2B to B2C play, developing consumer insights, to help brands have access to our consumers/users at specific times of their lives to make more useful and beneficial products to serve their existing audiences
-The architecture on Wish Dish didn’t give us a lot of room for growth.
The topic columns weren’t selected based on a solid brand identity, so it required a lot of make shift work on the fly to try to make sense of the flow
=Now, We sell a single, clear core service to our clients with optional add-ons.
-Over the past year, we have worked to develop a product as a service business developing content and building community across multiple social platforms.
-We’re fully aware of the costs, profit margin, and ultimately what we can viably and sustainably sell and how much time it takes to deliver on the service
-Having a streamlined service enables us to be confident in what we’re selling, because we know it works effectively
-Exhibit A: McDonalds got famous for doing one thing really well; “Big Mac” is basically a synonym for “hamburger” at this point.
-The About section was fine, but it didn’t speak to one specific demographic of people
-For a social platform, Wish Dish didn’t make it easy for users to connect. If I did it again, I would make a specific section for people going through X to meet people from Y community.
-The primary concept of Wish Dish was to connect people through shared stories, but the actual website didn’t do much to make that possible - again this is where technology becomes important at scale with your users, but the platform never scaled because it wasn’t easy for users to get their stories out.