I am a stubborn to-be entrepreneur. I am always looking for potential ideas to build and try. This is a quick reflection over a side-hustle that unfortunately didn't succeed.
One day, I went to buy some sushi at a Wasabi franchise. What was my surprise when they asked me to scan a QR code after paying to collect reward points. At that exact point I thought, QR and NFC are cool, and I should facilitate the access to these technologies lagging behind in the west.
Pivot #1: Loyalty cards
It sounded like a great idea to have loyalty cards where a cafe/restaurant customer would scan a QR/NFC code and collect stamps to get discounts.
Time invested: Not that much.
- Built a product before actually having any customers. Only based on some existing competitors in the space and the franchise Wasabi using a similar product.
- It is CRITICAL to find customers as soon as possible. Motivation will quickly drop, specially if all your effort building something is not valued by anyone.
- Tried cold door selling the product once. I was scared because I never did sales, and it took real courage to enter a cafe and pitch my idea to a random waiter there. They pretty much kicked me out (with good manners). That was a terrible experience, but I learned that sales was important and difficult to master.
- Validate soon. Sell more.
Pivot #2: Smart plant label
Given that I usually struggle with patience to stick to a non validated idea, I decided to explore something else that interested me.
I love plants, and I have tens of them at home (seriously, my house is like a jungle, greenery all over the place :)). I would like to build something that helped customers to keep their plants alive, giving them care details. A simple label that plant shops could put on the plant and assign to a specific species.
Time invested: A lot
- Invest less time on MVP.
- Better SaaS than physical products.
- Manufacturing in China is unreliable. They make a lot of mistakes and it is difficult to communicate unless you have a big budget.
- Sales is critical. I should invest 50% of time on sales, at least. This time around I did better than earlier and managed to sell something, but it was not good enough. This is a challenge for Engineers-Entrepreneurs.
- Sell before building anything to validate the idea early.
We applied to WebSummit 2019 in Lisbon (Portugal), and we got accepted to participate in it as an Alpha company (less than 500k investment). This is a great experience and we met a lot of interesting people, even some potential investors and partners.
The motivation decline
After WebSummit, I found a new role at Bloomberg and I also started working at another startup (InPractise.com). This, along with the lack of potential customers and partners, meant that Wisertag was forgotten and parked to the side.
Eventually... I took the executive decision of throwing away all the plant label stock, which was taking valuable space in my small London apartment.
That was a sad moment, but also a liberation, and it proved that I'm ready to move on and face a new challenge.
Pivot #3: Dead cat bounce, COVID-19 restaurant menus
After the COVID-19 pandemic started, I had too much time to think. I then decided to reuse the name and try selling a simple product to create restaurant menus with a QR code the restaurants could print. This time around, I wouldn't build it first.
Time invested: Not much.
Customers: 0, but multiple prospects.
- Changed the landing page to accommodate the new idea (checkout image bellow).
- Built a TripAdvisor email scraper for restaurants and collected around 20k emails for restaurants.
- Sent email to 2k restaurants in Spain, and got a few prospects.
- I got the feeling that it was not resonating that much, and I decided to drop the project before wasting any more time.
- I am happy that I didn't spent much time on this, this time around. This was a quick way to validate the idea, before building anything.
- Don't build before selling. Only allowed to build a landing page to sell and pitch the idea.
- Minimise time to validation. Wasted effort should be minimised.
- Get at least 10 actual customers interested in the product before building anything.
- Validate soon. Sell more.
- Physical products are hard. Manufacturing adds an extra complexity layer to the build process.
Wisertag was a great experience for me. It was an attempt to build a business. This time I didn't succeed, but there will be other opportunities.