Have you heard of BloomWorlds? Chances are you probably haven't, because even though I've been seeing intermittent updates about it on and off for the past year and a half, they never actually came out with a product, which was supposed to be a family-friendly, curated Android market. As of today, the project is shut down, and the post mortem report filled with reasons for its failure is sitting in our inboxes. And now your screens.
I've heard a lot of talk, and one of the founders even fruitlessly spent hours buying Brian and me drinks at CES trying to convince us that their market had a chance. I simply wasn't seeing it, but he was adamant and as any passionate founder refused to accept reasoning. That was one of their biggest mistakes. If you're going to bet against Google and the rest of the industry, you better make sure you have the top notch idea and top notch execution. BloomWorlds lacked both.
Ironically, they are probably going to see more press now than ever (BloomWorlds even passed on TechCrunch and Mashable coverage at the time).
If after 1.5 years you're still staring at this, something is wrong
BloomWorlds founders are already working on their next projects, but their mistakes, documented below, should teach other startup creators a few valuable lessons. But why don't I let them explain?
Post Mortem: “From Bloom to Doom”
Like many startup founders before us, it all starts with an idea. Our idea was BloomWorlds, a family friendly Android app store. We saw huge problems with the Android ecosystem and our product was going to solve it. We had the answer the Android community was looking for, now we had to start building it. Our vision was solid but, our execution was weak.
We started to work on BloomWorlds in July 2010; it is over now, ended, October of 2011.
Here are some lessons I learned:
I don’t have a “lean startup” just because I’ve heard of the movement. So I read a book, commented on few blog posts. I should have practiced the methodology, learned from real users, iterated my product, built and tested. Rinse and repeat. We dropped the ball here! We didn’t get the product out, we didn’t test. We didn’t iterate and reiterate. We kept building. The MVP never happened.
Remote teamwork is hard. It is harder than we could have ever imagined. Our founding team lives in different cities. My CTO is in Denver and I’m in Vegas. While it didn’t start out this way, this is how it wound up. And it added strain and inefficiency to our work.
Competing against billion dollar companies isn’t as cool as it seems. Yes, if our startup used speed and stealth and a bankroll to gain an advantage on Google and Amazon, perhaps we could have prospered. We did not. Bloomworlds set out to be, at first, an alternative market to the Android market. Then Amazon quickly created that. So we pivoted towards a niche: family friendly. So now we are competing with two tech giants, not one? Oh then Verizon opens an app store, and every other mobile carrier and OEM has expressed interest in building their own app storefronts. The window of opportunity may still be open, but it is closing fast. Good luck to all smaller independent app stores.
Ideas are worthless and execution is everything! Working virtually forced us to talk daily. But, what we really needed was less talking, less “idea meetings”, and more action. Too many feature requests, not enough focus on MVP. Plain and simple, we needed to just get it done, period.
Get a mentor and build the relationship. At the Founder Institute we had access to many great mentors. We are friendly with a few who have helped us in numerous situations over the 15 months, and we are thankful for them and their contributions to BloomWorlds. However, we never had that one mentor who was “our guy”. We did not ask for enough help. We never had a demo to show, we never had a mentor who could test our product, and give us feedback. We did not leverage all our contacts to help us. We wanted to wait until it was “ready” before we showed it.
Put an advisory board together. We did not! Looking back, a board would have been mentors times 10. We should have surrounded ourselves with those smarter than us. Then we’d be held accountable for our product, for our business. They would be sure and kick our asses for the lack of execution when we were stuck. Perhaps we were scared they would. This board would have been a big help.
Don’t turn down press opportunities. We had the opportunity for both TechCrunch and Mashable to write about BloomWorlds in December 2010. They were interested in our business and saw the value that we saw. We turned them down. We thought the timing was not aligned with our launch strategy. Funny thing is, we never fucking launched! I regret not getting the press exposure at that time because; it would have held us accountable by lighting a fire under our asses to get to market faster. We may have attracted investors, who knows? I might not be writing this if we had seed money rather than bootstrapping.
Life events happen and work will slow you down. My co-founder and I went through a lot of personal shit the past year and a half. Between the two of us we handled a cancer scare, a foreclosure, moving twice (each), financial hardships, and an emotional and lengthy guardianship battle. This really took its toll on our mind, body and soul, oh yeah, and our personal relationships. Our startup’s progress suffered with life drama. Most of the reasons we are working so hard is for our personal successes. This needs to be a priority and it slowed us down. No apologies, just something we didn’t think about. We did our best to work through it all. In the end BloomWorlds took a back seat with no one in the driver’s seat. We could have been more strategic with our business so that “life” was just part of it all.
Do not pay for services you do not need. We made a few mistakes of talking to vendors too early. We started paying for things that we could have, and should have, waited for. We were somewhat wasteful and would have done this differently in hindsight.
Most conferences are rip-offs. As a start-up, we should have been very picky about the conferences we attended. Event registration, airfare, rental cars, hotel rooms, meals and drinks are not cheap. Travel expenses could be used in other areas of operations, and not having that cash sucks when we needed it. We had to liquidate assets just to make it work at times, for what? To meet vendors who we’d later pay more money to? It was not a lean start-up strategy. Do you know what is? Living in Vegas, which provide many opportunities to volunteer and hustle at conference for free.
Startup project management should not be underestimated. Missing deadlines, assigning work to the wrong person, unrealistic time commitments, slow progress, and feature creep fucking killed us. We needed to build our MVP and launch that shit! No matter how ugly it was, how buggy it seemed, it never launched! We rewrote code, rewrote web copy, and re designed the site….twice. What a waste of time and resources, this is a huge lesson learned and perhaps our biggest mistake.
Once your passion is gone, the end is near. I am a huge sports fan. I’ve heard the term “gut check” often. I started to really hate this project. I was in denial about it ending. I knew we had problems and was sick of the massive amount of problems we were facing. I didn’t care about it anymore. So what if my 7yr old nephew found spam on the Android market- was this worth it anymore? We should have had periodic passion checks, to gauge our enthusiasm for our company. We didn’t and the light just slowly went dim. That’s when it was over.
Don’t string along your stakeholders. In our case it was our beta testers, the Android developer community, our parent advisory board, the Android bloggers, partners, tech journalists. Most importantly Darrell’s wife and my girlfriend who repeatedly asked us, when are you going to launch? We kept saying, soon…very soon…almost there. We should have taken heed. But it was too late. Next thing we know the passion was gone, our product was a mess, and numerous competitors launched who did it faster, better and with investment.
Thank you to Adam Segal, our code sorcerer, for working hard until the last day. You are the man and we hope to work with you in the future.
To Gabe Evans, our code ninja, for your server and optimization skills, thank you for your contributions. BTW, your chair is still in our office.
To Renee Lico for our web designs, which may never been seen in public, but will never be forgotten by our team.
To Erick Hollar for your professionalism and product management mindset, we wish you started a few months earlier.
To Charm for Bloombot
To Jeremy for his effort during Startup Weekend Las Vegas
To #Vegastech for you continued support and the excitement you bring to the table. We are so proud to be a part of this scene.
To our significant others, Jill and Lauralie, for everything and then some more, you ladies made many sacrifices for our startup. Thank you immensely for the love and support you give us every day.
Please know we are sorry for over-promising and under-delivering. Thank you for believing in us.
Todd and Darrell.
We may be down, but not out. This is a list of things to do differently for our next venture which is already being alpha tested. We’ve got one big fail out of the way. We are entrepreneurs, we are creators, and we are passionate. And we’ve learned. Stick with us. It’s not the end, it’s just the beginning. We want to make you all proud!
P.S. Don't send every email in font size 50. Really, just don't.