Reflecting on Shizzow

shizzow_colorAs 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!

5 thoughts on “Reflecting on Shizzow”

  1. Congratulations on taking the risk and giving Shizzow 100% of your time and attention. As entrepreneurs we must learn from our adventures which will set us up better for the next one. Thank you for sharing what you learned and hopefully I won’t make these mistakes when I bring my next project forward! Best of luck and hope to see you around soon.


  2. Thanks for the thoughts. I agree with focusing on the user and starting simple with regards to legal structure. One thing that impressed me with the product – even though it took a while to get out and make changes, the site felt complete and polished from the start. I would have dropped the site restriction on cities – focus on a city for promotion but let anyone use the service from anywhere. Foursquare did the same thing and while its gone now, I think its unnecessarily limiting.

  3. As one who poured five years of my life into a community service startup in Colorado Springs, and in the end turned it over to others, I feel your passion. We had such big dreams – and in the end, it just wasn’t sustainable. It was difficult to let go.

    Like you, we had an awesome team – and we will be friends forever. I personally wanted to pull the plug, but wasn’t given that choice. Now the organization limps along – and it’s painful to watch from afar. The one good thing is that I got to move back to my hometown of Portland!

    I was an early adopter of Brightkite, and therefore was slow to use Shizzow. Eventually I found it more useful due to my local friends. I’ve been a late adopter of Foursquare, mainly due to the fact they only recently added a bbPhone app (and the fact that Brightkite imploded on their recent UX/UI).

    In many ways, you all can be proud – I believe Shizzow had a superior UI. But the folks at Foursquare (and others), figured out how to draw people in. Sometimes, it’s not the superior that survives.

    Good job to all of you – thanks for the write up!

  4. Hey Dawn,

    Thanks for your insights into early phase growth and proper of small startups.

    I am happy Shizzow had a good run and you all have fans that are anxious to support you all in whatever is next!


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