You get a degree, start working, move across the world, work some more, get an MBA, start a company, put every ounce of energy in it for eight years, experience success, but in the end have to shut it down. To get there, it took a great deal of time, energy, money, and many sacrifices had to be made.
It had a big impact on everyone around me, from employees and their families, friends and most importantly my family. The last 8-9 months in the life of the company were extremely intense, where the difference between hell and paradise was (at least a few times) the last signature on that financing deal or the M&A papers.
Many have used “lean startup” principles within their company, but the journey above is so much more than that. While this is my story, the question is how much was it waste? I might have some of the answers, but what good if they are not shared with the world?
Maybe you heard stories like this before, so it’s OK if you stop reading and go on with your life. For those that are still here, I can only promise you an uncensored account of how MobiHand was created, grew into a profitable company, and ultimately failed. Some say that failure is a great learning experience, and while in general I agree with this, experiencing only failure will teach you what you should not do. Throughout these eight years, we have also experienced a great deal of successes, so I can only hope by the end of our journey, you have learned at least a fraction of how all these experiences have enriched my life.
For those that never heard about MobiHand, I founded the company at the end of 2004 (in the bedroom of course), and we were a white-label AppStore company, covering all the open platforms from Palm OS, BlackBerry, or Andorid. We powered over 350 AppStores, from mobile enthusiast sites to the second largest computer manufacturer, in over 60 countries, 50 languages, and 40 currencies. We operated all these stores, from developer relationship and payments, customer acquisition and payments, app delivery and customer support. A few vanity metrics: at the peak we had $10M in annual sales and had close to 4M paying customers and over the life of the company we paid over $30M to our developer partners.
We built a 100% virtual company, with every single person of our 14-member team working in a different location – covering 5 states, 5 countries and 3 continents. Although we released code more than 30 times a day and we were a technology company, for more than six years our development was as big as one developer. And the story I like the most about the way we operated is that, for more than one year, our customer support was run from an RV, as our only support rep was taking a tour of the US.
We were completely bootstrapped and experienced the slow growth, the hokey stick to profitability, the abyss fall, early M&A attempts, a failed termsheet, due diligence, and even the letter of intent (success baby). In the end, everything has officially ended on that day of mid September, 2012 when we filed for bankruptcy.
Building web products can be very cruel for its creators when the company closes its doors. You have spent years building and improving these services, and then, the moment the servers are shut down, everything is gone in a blink of an eye. The only thing left behind is an amazing journey, nothing else.
We did “lean” before we knew what it meant, we did “agile” before it was a cool word, we did “customer development” before we read about it, but we would lie if we say we did it all correctly. We “built”, but we did not “measure”, we “learned “, but did not always use the right info to do so. We “pivoted” quite a few times, but in the end we run out of time and energy.
I’ll write the story in a “lean startup” fashion, the intro above is the MVP (minimum viable product) and each two weeks I’ll post a chapter covering a certain period in the life of the company (the sales graph below will be the blueprint).
Chapter 1: Baby Steps (MVP)
Chapter 2: Growing Up
Chapter 3: Climbing the Mountain
Chapter 4: Life at the Summit
Chapter 5: The Abyss
Chapter 6: To Be on Not toLive or Die