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Failing forward: how I learnt to not play my cards too close to my chest

on Tuesday, 31 January 2017. Posted in Insight, Analysis

Shapr’s CEO and co-founder Ludovic Huraux reveals what he learnt when not letting enough people see his product pre-launch nearly derailed his startup

Failing forward: how I learnt to not play my cards too close to my chest

In the early days of Shapr, we only relied on the feedback of a few close friends and kept our project hidden while developing it. We were worried that someone would beat us to the market if the idea got out, so we only asked for feedback from the people closest to us and kept our ideas very private. Now I know how big of a mistake that was.

The result of playing our cards so close to our chests was that when our beta launched in 2015 it was too complex and didn’t meet our goal of making networking easier, despite costing us almost a year of work and £1m in startup funds. While we saw initial downloads, the retention rate was extremely poor and we quickly concluded that the product wasn’t working. We lost a lot of time and energy on this project but it was even worse to witness a team of hard-working people get very discouraged.

Personally, it was a big blow to my ego. My first startup – the premium French dating site Attractive World – had been a success and it was incredibly discouraging to fail at my second major project. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to build another company again. It was a very hard time and I am incredibly grateful I had some incredible co-founders and shareholders who stuck by my side.

Strengthened by that support, we reached out to our users to hear what they thought. I personally spoke with over 150 people who had downloaded the app to find out what was working, what wasn’t and what they’d hope to see in the next version. We were extremely strategic in testing each part of the app, relying on numbers and not just instincts to make adjustments. We didn’t invest money until the product was working because we had to know downloads would translate to active users. I worked hard with my cofounders to keep the team motivated and navigate egos while we wrote off 80% of the original code and simplified the design.

The entire team worked tirelessly to produce a new version of Shapr. The new version of the app was launched in January 2016 and has been gaining major traction in the US, UK and France since the relaunch, with over 100% growth month on month.

I learned that there is lot more danger in keeping your ideas to yourself for fear of them being stolen. There will always be a competitor who is doing something similar but you have to believe in your team and product and instead spend your energy talking to the people who you want to use your service. Had we spent more time conducting research and getting feedback from actual potential users, we would have avoided the ego bust when our product didn’t take off, as well as lot of work and money.

While to err is human, it’s important that you learn from your mistakes. If I had a chance to advise other entrepreneurs in a similar situation, I’d tell them to ask lots of questions, listen to the opinions of others and be open to hearing that some of your ideas may not work. You might have an awesome idea but if that doesn’t translate into a product people want to use then think of ways you can pivot your ideas to a model that works. I am glad the new version of Shapr is working so well.

Ludovic Huraux is the CEO and co-founder of Shapr, the networking app that brings you a personalised daily dose of inspiring people to meet.

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