When you launch a startup, you give your full self. How do you walk away?
I’m laying down in bed right now. I can’t see a light besides what is being displayed on my phone screen. It’s the darkness that has steadily reaped havoc inside me the past 3-4 months.
This darkness can be crippling. It’s darkness that is there until you turn the light on, but sometimes the light seems so far away. And when you do turn it on, it only stays for brief moments.
For over the past year and a half, I have pursued my startup, Wish Dish head on. Head down, foot on the gas, with small moments of pause and reset along the way.
The burnouts from building this startup have been bad, over-exacerbated at times. They hit you when you least expect them. Jabs, hooks, and knockout punches coming from nowhere.
People who once believed in you walking away not paying attention to you anymore.
People you look up to telling you the fight may be over.
You step in the ring to begin with because you have something to fight for. If you step in the ring to look tough and be cool, then it’s all for the wrong reasons.
It’s not a battle worth to endure without a noble cause to follow. There’s no way I could push each day if I didn’t know Why I started; my vision for my startup.
I Stepped in the Ring Because I had a Problem: A Non-Viable Startup
I hit a low point, and I needed a place to share. I needed a place to connect and find a tribe of my own. My problem became a dream for a new startup, not just for myself, but a dream that could help others around me.
So I created a solution – a startup called Wish Dish- that has allowed me to do just that. I’ve also created a solution that has thrown me in the middle of sea trying to figure out the next best place to swim.
Usually, there’s always that person that puts on the tubes before I “drown” and provides reassurance I’m on the right path.
But the past 3 or 4 months, the anchor weighing down from the failure of my first startup has been pulling hard on the feet. There has been no reassurance. There hasn’t been that person.
When I say I’ve failed, I’ve failed a lot. When I first started, when the gas was on Full, and I was running at Ferrari speeds of excitement, I could do anything. It was all about the people we were serving.
From showing up to Georgia State meeting 300 random students in 4 days, to flying to Mailbu to speak to Pepperdine students, to showing up to UCLA for a day talking to 50 strangers, to building a brand ambassador program at 5 different colleges in Georgia, we were doing it all. Anything we wanted at lightning speed.
I learned early on that the way I ran my first startup wasn’t the most efficient way to scale content, so I stumbled upon a woman who had this amazing idea to look at our data.
From there, I saw mental health, sports, culture, and faith were our top 4 topics.
From there, I developed relationships within those areas and grew our content with the help of many people fighting for the same cause. Within the span of 3 months, we launched a new site (the one we have today), published more than 175 stories, and had an event with almost 200+ people. An event where people flew in from Philadelphia, Tennessee, Virginia, and New York.
The tide was high, we were riding the wave. But all waves come to a crash and this wave seemed to take me through the undercurrent.
My Startup Is Over: I Just Haven’t Fully Realized it Until Now
In May, I lost an incredible team member Sam Dickinson to a full time job in Indiana. Sam was a backbone to the early foundation. He helped build our content strategy, power points, review our proposals. He was the most reliable person who understood everything we were doing.
When Sam left, I knew it was time to find a cofounder, so I heavily recruited a friend from Philadelphia who has the I can do anything attitude. I thought he’d be perfect for the team. I still hope he can one day join.
After not being able to come to terms with wish dish not being the right startup idea I have in my heart, it was another blow to the chest. It seemed early on, anyone and everyone was helping push this vision forward. I never had rejection up to this point from someone I had worked so hard to try and recruit.
Every Startup Needs the Right Team
Speaking about building the startup team, for the last 6 months, I’ve pushed relentlessly to find a technical founder who can make product changes and improve the website. In April I had conducted 25 user interviews and learn how important it was to build a product that keeps visitors and contributors coming back to the site. So I began the search for a long-term technical solution. Being extremely short on capital and in an industry where tech developers are swept up by the tech giants of the world for $75K/year — I’ve struggled immensely to find the consistent talent I need. I’ve probably put in 100+ hours of work trying to find the right person interviewing one tech person after another and having introductions made. Heck, I even have a spreadsheet of 80 different names I’ve talked too.
Along with trying to put a team in place, we’ve been working to implement revenue models. I’ve struggled to put In monetary solutions with the rawness of the platform. How do we make money but not ruin an authentic brand. We have begun the foundation for a book called “Showing Up Naked” but that is a process in itself. Sponsors have been tough to come by and there are moments in time when the next best step forward is murky.
At 23, I’ve learned so much. I’ve given everything possible to this platform to make it succeed on extremely little capital. The gas tank right now is near empty, and I’m trying to figure out if it’s worth a refuel. And if it is, I’m trying to figure out where the gas would be.
In the past year we have helped so many people get jobs from their stories shared, we’ve connected people with suicide stories to one another, and we’ve built meaningful connection for so many people.
It’s Been Everything I Could Imagine and More
As the founder behind it, it’s hard to sometimes see through the fuzziness of the clouds. Day in and day out, I question, am I on the right path? I feel trapped in the college town I went to school in, sharing a room with a friend, driving a beat up 2004 car. It all seems rough from the outside, and on the inside I’m the one who can actually feel it.
As I reflect, we still have accomplished so much. I realize we wouldn’t be here without an amazing team of advisors, group of friends who have supported, and amazing teammates along the way.
So the question is, are we going to continue?
I watched the Olympics this weekend. I saw people who had trained a lifetime of to make their dreams come true. One of the divers who fell short said, “I’ll be back in Toyko.” He didn’t have to think twice about putting in another 4 years of training. The sheer resilience, determination, and effort was inspiring to see.
I recently read a book on Phil Knight, Nike’s Founder called Shoe Dog. Nike wasn’t even called Nike until year 8 of business. There were a million and one reasons why Nike should have failed in their first 25 years of business, but they found a way through. Nike’s brand speaks for itself, because they have a founder who embodies every characteristic of what they represent.
For us, putting in a year and a half and letting it go because everything isn’t working how I thought by this time would simply be giving up. And I’m simply not ready to let that happen. Onward we go.
— Bryan Wish