As many of you know, I was the community evangelist and one of the co-founders of Shizzow, a location-based service designed to help you find and hang out with your friends. Last week we made the difficult decision to shut down the company behind Shizzow and let it live on as a side project for Mark Wallaert while Ryan Snyder and I officially moved off of the project. The sad reality is that the number of users were dwindling, and we had little time to devote to Shizzow, so we thought this was the best option for everyone involved. I wanted to spend a few minutes reflecting on Shizzow and what I learned from it.
First, I want to make it clear that I do not regret a minute of the time that I put into Shizzow. It was an incredibly fun project, and Mark and Ryan were amazing people to work with. We had an amazing community of users here in Portland, and I met so many new friends as a result of my work on Shizzow. I also learned quite a bit throughout this process, and the time that I spent on Shizzow was worth the education I received as a result.
There are a few things I would do differently if I had to start over, even if some of these things go against traditional business advice:
- Spend less time and effort focused on the business during the early days. Having a business model, financial projections and a VC pitch isn’t worth much without users. Focus on the users first, and then spend time on the business after you’ve fully validated that you are going to have enough users to turn it into a business. Spending too much time on the business in the very early days leaves less energy for the product. I know this goes against much of the traditional startup advice, but this is critical for people with limited time who are starting something in addition to their regular day jobs.
- Start small and move up. Shizzow was set up with heavy corporate processes from the start. For example, we were a C corp, which involved a lot more paperwork, effort and legal expenses when we could have started as an LLC and moved to a C corp later only if we needed it. Starting with the minimum effort needed to get going and growing as needed would have been a better choice for us.
- Fast is better than perfect. Shizzow was built to scale to hundreds of thousands or millions of users, which made for a rock solid product, but it also took too much time. As a result, we entered a little too late in the game. In the future, I’d focus on getting something out early and worry about scalability later as needed. Don’t get me wrong, the product should be built on an architecture that is capable of scaling to large numbers of users, but you don’t need to start optimizing for them until they start to materialize.
- Have better plans for growing the user base. We definitely underestimated the difficulty in growing our user base outside of Portland. We should have spent more time on outreach to people outside of Portland and making it easier for new users to get started with Shizzow.
There are also a few things that I wouldn’t change:
- Start with great people. I love working with people who are smart and fun to be around, and I had a great time working with Mark and Ryan. I learned new things and have new friends as a result of Shizzow.
- Focus on community. We had a great community of users in Shizzow, and we spent a lot of time fixing bugs and making changes based on the community feedback. We also had a great community of developers who spent countless hours hammering on the API and attending our regular developer meetups over drinks at the Green Dragon.
I thought it was important to spend a few minutes reflecting publicly about my experiences with Shizzow in the hopes that other people can learn from it as well. While it’s always a little difficult to let go, I think it was the right time.
A heartfelt thank you everyone who used Shizzow and supported us over the past year. Finally, a shout out to the person who created this video. I love it!