I should have listened to my gut and my brain. On hindsight there were so many obvious signs that it’s a bad idea and a bad business relationship. But my heart wanted to really make it work.
My heart can go take a bench break.
So back in October 2013, my soon-to-be Troublesome Business Partner (TBP) convinced me and the soon-to-be Amiable Business Partner (ABP) of forming a company. The business: to have an app where people can browse food items of an eatery place, be it a cafe or restaurant or anything in between.
My instincts and gut feeling told me that was a bad idea. My brain figured out that there’s no real business. The app users must be able to use the service for free. For that kind of service, fremium would drive people away unless there’s something compelling. During the late quarter of 2013, there were already food related services (FoodPanda was one of them I think. We’ll get to that in a future post). That idea alone was not enough of a business model.
Social media was so rampant that just being able to browse food items of an eatery place was laughably ignorable.
Profit would have to come from the eateries themselves, cafes and restaurants and whatnot paying us money to list their business in our app. Or from advertisements and sponsors. As a newcomer in the arena, I did not see how we could compete since we had no competitive advantage.
But ABP agreed to TBP’s idea, and I was blinded by the fact that I found people willing to do business together with me.
Lesson: Do not let your heart run your business decisions. Your heart can take a bench break.
Despite what my gut instincts and brain were telling me, I chose to try to make it work. My two business partners (we formed a company soon after), TBP and ABP have… shall we say qualifications that added some letters before and after their names. Who was I to judge?
I confirmed with TBP if TBP had any further ideas, such as monetisation or marketing the app or getting initial customers or … anything at all. TBP had no further ideas beyond the original idea.
My gut shot that red flag to my brain so quickly I nearly choked but my heart brushed it aside just as quickly. (I was really lonesome for like-minded people)
Alright, I’m going to try to describe the app as best as I can and you can judge it on its own merit. I named it FoodSkim. My two business partners were next to worthless when it came to naming, and I had to do something (I was the CEO after all).
So you would go to your favourite cafe Mooncoin, fire up the FoodSkim app, select Mooncoin as the eatery, select your favourite beverage CinnaSoyLattecino Triple Shot with the signature Coin Cake, and then send it off as an order.
FoodSkim would send your order to Mooncoin’s corresponding FoodSkim server on Mooncoin’s computer for processing (probably in the kitchen or something). Mooncoin would still need you to pay at their cashier counter, but you know, that’s just a minor inconvenience compared to Oh Em Gee you can rate the food item and share your opinions on the food/eatery on your favourite social media sites!
It must have been a superbly brilliant idea because I couldn’t get TBP and ABP to see the practicality of convincing businesses to do business with us based on that.
How were we to convince them of setting up our FoodSkim server program on their computer? Do they even have a computer? “If they don’t, we provide them with a (cheap) computer.” I’m flabbergasted.
How were we to interface with their Point-Of-Sales (POS) system? Can we interface with their POS? Should we interface at all? Would they allow us to interface? How difficult would it be to interface? (Because no interface means the customer, that’s you, would still have to go queue up and pay at the cashier, which defeats the purpose of choosing food items at your leisure)
TBP also suggested we allow FoodSkim users to preorder food before they’re at the eatery.
How could the eatery trust that the customer would show up, because they have to prepare the food (no payment yet, remember)?
“Oh we put GPS location lock on the customer and the eatery location.”
That meant we had to enter the eatery GPS location into our database. What if they move (they’d have to inform us, and why would they think it’s important to inform us?)? Data maintenance would be a problem.
Despite me bringing up those questions of practicality, I was brushed aside. Ok, how about the initial set of businesses? Neither TBP nor ABP did anything to get eateries to list their businesses with us.
I actually went out to a few eateries to talk with the owners. I asked them if they’d be interested to be listed. I gave them my name card. No one contacted me. I wasn’t surprised, but I did the leg work. I tried to make it work and give it my best effort just in case it did.
Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. It was almost two years after the company was formed. TBP was nowhere to be seen nor heard from. TBP just disappeared without telling me. ABP told me that both of them were still in contact, and ABP told me TBP was afraid of me.
Really? I wonder why.
I wound up development on FoodSkim. At that point, I was forking out my own money to keep the company and the FoodSkim project going. TBP and ABP didn’t offer any money at all to help.
I could no longer tell myself my company and FoodSkim were going to work.
I told ABP of my decision and ABP was ok with closing the company. Then I went through a long process of terminating the funding agreement with the venture capitalist organisation. Even the liaison from the venture capitalist organisation disappeared and didn’t help me or give me advice.
The termination took a few months to finally get settled. Then I went through the long process of closing my company.
During that entire period of time, I kept telling myself that, in five or ten years time, Future Vincent would look back on the memory of this period and laugh. Because Present Vincent was in a lot of emotional pain and stress. Without any self-motivation and self-talk, Present Vincent would have had a nervous breakdown.
I still look at that period of time as a learning experience. I still feel bittersweet when I think of the times when I did payroll. The sense of responsibility of taking care of the company bank account. Swallowing my pride when talking to potential customers. Putting up a face of calm when presenting to the VC.
I’m also more cynical of people now, and hopefully a better judge of character.
I paid a hefty price for that experience, in terms of money, of sweat and tears, of lost opportunities, of loss of time.
It took me 3 years to recover to the point where I’m able to talk to you about it. I hope you learnt something from my experience, and that you have a better time than me.