Over my career spanning 15+ years, I have started companies, sold successfully and also failed and shut down companies. I have also started over 25+ side projects that have largely failed. I can claim I have learned a lot from both my successes and failures to write multiple books. What I have figured out though is that the act of solving a new problem and the ideas that flow have more taught more about myself than the markets I was operating in, the customer segments I was targeting, or the technologies I was working on.
There are multiple things you want to learn about yourself. Introspection is a good thing for most parts. There are multiple ways to learn about yourself. As long as you live every day you tend to learn about yourself, but all of the major milestones at your startup provide you an opportunity to learn more about your likes, dislikes, your fears, things that make you happy and those that make you sad. You also learn about the kinds of people you like to work with and those you’d rather avoid.
The key part is to document all your learning. I recommend the question bank approach to learning from your failures.
One of my side projects many years ago was a crowdsourced solution to price transparency for *everything*. I called the project “pricearoo” and started it exactly a year before “Priceonomics”.
The key difference was to allow users to “check in” their price for any item. I have the initial screen shots as well. It was a simple “I paid XX for YY” at “automatic location”
Then you can see how much other people paid for the same thing, or where you can get it cheaper. The idea was pretty broad, and I could price anything from oranges to cars.
There were a lot of things wrong with the project. I launched it for Windows Phone (2012, pretty lame, I know) and it was pretty generic, instead of focused on one vertical. I also did a poor job getting the word out. So, while the prototype and the mockup were very well received by the initial users, the project failed miserably.
I learnt a lot about consumer applications, the launch process, how to build a Windows phone app and build a back-end system with Ruby on Rails. All that was great learning, and something I will keep for a long time.
There’s one thing though about these things I learned. Most have of the items about market, customer segments and product have a shelf life of less than 3,6 or sometimes a max of 12 months.
The most important flaw in my personality that I learned through this project was I like shiny new things more than the discipline and diligence to follow through one thing.
That one piece of learning has stayed with me ever since. I have written much about discipline vs. intellect since, but since that project, I focused on building my muscle memory around being a lot more disciplined. The “I am smart enough to figure things out” has been replaced by the “grin and bear it through the worst and best of times”.