In 2002, I unsuccessfully attempted to start a lifestyle magazine for Black golf enthusiasts called, Seven Under. To this day, when I mention the project to someone the response I usually get is, “that sounds like an interesting idea, why did it fail?”
It took me several years to come up with the real answer to that question. The over-simplified answers are: 1) My partner and I lacked previous publishing experience; 2) We didn’t have enough money to have a real shot at success; 3) The timing was bad because Vanguarde Media, which, at that time, was a dominant player in the Black Magazine space, just filed for bankruptcy. And advertisers were luke warm to a new publication in the same category; and 4) We were ahead of our time with plans to launch a digital-only version of the magazine in a pre iPad-era. ENNN! (Loud buzzing sound!) While there is truth in all those answers, none of them is most true. The real reason the start-up failed is because I was too desperate.
What is Desperation?
Desperation is described many ways; here’s an interesting take on the subject.
Desperation is a necessary ingredient to learning anything, or creating anything. Period. If you ain’t desperate at some point, you ain’t interesting. – Jim Carrey
While Jim Carrey is funny, as usual, it’s this next quote that is more relevant to the failure of Seven Under.
Desperation is like stealing from the Mafia: you stand a good chance of attracting the wrong attention. – Douglas Horton
People can smell desperation a mile away and it causes them to run in the opposite direction, which, for me was clearly the wrong attention!
Why So Desperate?
I was a newly minted MBA from the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and I was ready to take on the world. I would be remiss as a good Tar Heel if I didn’t toss in the requisite chant of Go To Hell Dook! Ahem. I feel better now that I got that off my chest. But I digress.
So, while trying to get the magazine off the ground I worked part-time at a 9 hole golf facility in NJ, which paid an unsustainable wage. I took the job, however, because it gave me a chance to learn about the golf business and get to know industry insiders, plus I could meet with potential investors in Manhattan on my days off. After two years of pouring money into the business, earning very little income, and scores of potential investor rejections, desperation took hold, which, I’m convinced killed any chance of getting the money needed to launch the magazine. Investors could tell I was desperate and they wanted nothing to do with me or the magazine.
A Lil’ Fun Before #Fail
Working on the magazine start-up wasn’t all doom and gloom-I also had lots of fun. Like the time I appeared on ESPN’s Cold Pizza (Now canceled. Perhaps because of me? Hmmm…). Then there was the time my partner and I played golf with ESPN anchor, and fellow Tar Heel, Stuart Scott and his buddy at TPC Avenel (I think that was the course) and beat them for $20 each; the look on their faces was priceless when I hit a 6 iron close to the hole on a closing par 3!
Here is a very early mockup of the prototype with Sir Charles on the cover:
Through the help of an advisory board member, Barkley agreed to grace the cover of the first issue of the magazine once we launched, which obviously never happened.
Below is an autographed copy of the actual prototype, with Jason Kidd on the cover when he was the point guard of the NJ Nets (back when they were good ) . We took 10 copies of the prototype for him to sign, he signed 7 and kept 3 for himself. Pretty kewl, huh?
If you look closely, you’ll notice a spelling error (what? I’m not gonna point it out for you), which, 10 years later still chaps my hide because it somehow occurred after a final proof from the designer. Meh!
So what did I learn from the failed Seven Under start-up that I can apply to my latest start-up venture, WeMontage? A few things.
Most obviously, no matter how hard things seem, or how long it takes the developers to finish the website, I will never, ever, EVER, appear desperate; this will be key, naturally, once I begin trying to raise money post completion of the beta version of WeMontage.
Second, according to former Apple Evangelist, Guy Kawasaki, in his 2011 blog post: What I Learned From Steve Jobs (item #11), real CEOs ship! Hmmm, guess that means I wasn’t a real CEO when I tried to launch Seven Under. Ok. I accept that.
Despite the fact I want WeMontage to launch and be successful almost as much as I want to draw my next breath, you will never know it because…I’m not desperate. #NeverGiveUp
What lessons have you learned from your failed start-up endeavors? Please tell me in the comments area.
Suerte! (Good luck!)