This is the English version of an article I’ve written in 2016 and have published on Medium. I have moved it to the blog just to keep my eyes on it, but I hope you find this my post funny or useful.
I’m smart! No, not just smart. I’m freaking brilliant!!!
Considering yourself exceptional and getting frustrated because no dumbass understands your brilliance? Totally normal. And I’m no exception to that. The real question is: what are you doing to bring your genius to life? Because if you don’t, someone else will, and you’ll end up whining about insurmountable obstacles in the way of your brilliant idea, which, of course, your luckier competitors had none of.
But as Friedrich Nietzsche once said, ‘Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich stärker.’ (Friedrich Nietzsche; ‘Twilight of the Idols’). Or, in today’s terms, ‘Where I messed up, I hope I learned something.’
Let me share some of my own experiences, or at least the ones I remember.
This was my first project, and I had high hopes for it. Back in 2004-2005, while working at Beeline, I crafted elaborate plans to escape the corporate world where I was just another middle-tier manager with no real purpose. I aspired to become a billionaire by launching my own cool product that everyone would crave.
After some head-scratching, I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be convenient if instead of navigating a hundred different websites, you could go to one platform to download everything you need, get notifications, and update seamlessly?’ For developers, it would be a breeze – build it, upload it to one resource, and everyone’s happy. ‘Wait a minute! Someone must have done this already,’ you might say as you reach for your iPhone or Android to Google something similar. And, of course, you’ll find projects from a couple of big-name companies. ‘Well, I failed then,’ you’d conclude, and you’d be right. I sighed heavily and moved on. Google, Apple, and Microsoft had their stores, each separately, but at least I learned how to program in Ruby – something for myself.
- What I Learned: The most valuable lesson – I learned how to cook up Ruby on Rails.
- Conscious Mistakes: Don’t try to build a spaceship if you don’t have 100 billion bucks.
Honestly, I don’t like jerks. Seriously! And jerks behind the wheel? Even worse. Reckless driving, parking where it’s not allowed, and obstructing others – these folks are unpleasant double trouble. I’m sure you’ve encountered them too. So, finding a like-minded friend in my old buddy Alex Cherkashchenko, I decided to create a service to expose these idiots. Meanwhile, we attended startup events like Greenfield Project Harvest, which was just starting to gain traction thanks to Rinat Garipov, Misha Korneev, Peter Tatischev.
I remember the day I nervously took the stage at Harvest, trembling voice and all, trying to explain what I had concocted. Of course, I got no response from the audience, but I realized that to get people to listen, you need to be confident on stage, like a real superstar. Well, I didn’t become a star, and I don’t do stand-up comedy, but at least I learned not to stammer on stage. Well, okay, at least the audience doesn’t laugh at me.
- What I Learned: How to pitch my project to an audience and investors, and not to freak out when all eyes are on me.
- Conscious Mistakes: The project had only a social aspect with no monetization idea. Such projects are great for crowdfunding or when you already have the funds to implement them.
Next up on my project journey was Lorgnette. Given that half of my relatives and their friends are theater and cinema actors, we regularly attend various cool performances. At some point, a few ideas struck me:
- Despite the digital age, theaters still use old-school paper programs.
- Theaters record their performances, which then end up in the archives and are inaccessible to the public.
- No one had yet thought of bringing the digital world into the realm of theater.
After some brainstorming, we came up with a way to boost sales. I even made preliminary agreements with several content providers, but then the crisis hit, and the project was put on hold. Later, I contemplated resurrecting it, but there were a few “buts”:
The conservative thinking of theater folks, who didn’t understand why they needed this and how to make money from the content.
The project might have worked in cities like Moscow, London, and New York with numerous theaters, but it wouldn’t fly in San Francisco, Los Angeles, or similarly tech-focused places. It certainly wouldn’t work in Ust-Zazhopinske, where family drama unfolds daily as tired wives chase their perpetually drunk husbands with a rolling pin.
The mentality of theater people in different cities and countries varies greatly, so you’d have to come up with a new story each time to get people to consume the content. Selling this idea to investors? Not a chance.
What I Learned: My negotiation skills were significantly enhanced when you approach people who think they don’t need your product and explain why they actually do.
Conscious Mistakes: Having a niche doesn’t guarantee that even your most brilliant product will fit into it.
Once upon a time I’ve decided to ditch the office and work wherever we pleased – coworking spaces, cafes, homes, you name it. And at some point, it occurred to me that having an app that could help you find a place to work in your current location would be pretty handy.
I started talking to coworking spaces that might find this idea interesting, but I realized they were primarily interested in long-term contracts, where visitors would buy a monthly subscription or more, not in selling for a few hours or a day. On the other hand, there was the option of partnering with cafes and restaurants, but after talking to some of them, I realized that even though most of their spaces sat empty for a significant part of the day, they had no interest in this idea. In fact, one nearby restaurant, where I often sat with my laptop, began giving me strange looks for using it as a coworking space.
On one fine, sunny day in a kingdom far, far away lived… No, I couldn’t come up with a better phrase to start this paragraph, so enjoy what you’ve got. 😄 But enough about that – let me tell you about the project! The idea of a mobile client for Yandex.Metrica had been brewing in my mind for quite some time. It’s a great service, but surprisingly, Yandex didn’t seem to pay much attention to it from a product perspective, and they hadn’t released a mobile client. Meanwhile, third-party developers had created alternative clients that were visually stunning but as convenient as a dresser as a vibrator (sorry, guys, I can’t help but take a jab at “competitors”). We talked to colleagues and decided to create something more appealing (not everyone might have liked it, but Yandex did call our project the most beautiful mobile client for Yandex.Metrica, which gave us a glimmer of hope).
Time passed, new versions of the Yandex Metrica API and mobile operating systems were released, and we got busy with commercial projects instead of our beloved Metrica. At some point, we met with Yandex, who initially offered to buy us along with the project. When we declined and suggested they buy our application instead, they refused, claiming our price was too high. The project gathered dust, but later I decided there was no point in letting it rot – I open-sourced it.
Reflecting on all these projects, successes, and failures, I came to the conclusion that you should never stop. Every project teaches us something and adds value to our lives. If something goes wrong, take a step back, analyze your mistakes, and things will definitely work out in the end.
And there you have it, my journey through these projects, filled with lessons, failures, and a growing sense of humility. But hey, that’s the startup world for you – a rollercoaster of experiences and constant learning.