Archive for December 6, 2009

Pollground: A Retrospective

Pollground, a opinion poll site that operated in 2006, grew from our first attempt at a startup.  When the site shut down in November 2006, anyone following Pollground must have asked “what went wrong?”

As the founders, we of all people wanted to have an answer.  We came up with a laundry list of explanations then, pulling at any which reason.  We didn’t dress well enough.  We were too slow in programming. But having four years to think about the company, the list of explanations have focused down to a few key critical points.

Before explaining the points, first a little history.  The company behind Pollground was conceived almost exactly four years ago, receiving funding on November 6th, 2005.   In the months after this date, a whirlwind of activity surrounded the site.  In February 2006, we went on a tour of other companies  funded by our investor.  It was exhilarating and inspired us onwards.  In June 2006, development started in earnest, with two people, twelve hours a day.

The big launch date was July 1st.  We saw a surge in traffic.   We were excited — this was our product, and thousands of users were seeing it and signing in every hour.   We returned the user’s volley with endless days of frenzied updating.   Over the course of many days though, the number of visitors decreased.

There was disappointment, and then a loss for direction.  We patched up all the holes visitors suggested.  We added new features.  But users were only still dripping in a few every hour.  We presented to investors a month later, and followed up on lukewarm leads.  One investor wanted us to port our application to a cell phone, which he would then buy.  Another investor wanted to use our polling technology to help advertisements.

These leads would have let the company generate enough money to feed us, or even live well at programmer salary levels.   But we began a startup for the chance to strike it big.  The small probability of taking it public was the driving force, and that was gone.  No reason continued to exist for us to work on it.  Our time was valuable, and we went back to college.

That brings us to the top reasons we closed down in retrospect.

Reason 0:  The Numbers Game.  The median fish egg doesn’t grow into an adult.  The median college dropout doesn’t have $58 billion.  The median startup shuts down within a year.

At least stastically, closing Pollground was expected and an IPO wasn’t.  So, asking why Pollground closed is a little like asking why an arbitrary object, like a rock, fails to sustain self-powered flight.   The correct question instead isn’t “what went wrong” as much as “what could have gone much better”, “what are lessons for startups to take away.”

Reason 1:  Eyes on the money.

We went into Pollground under the premise that all we had to do was make a site that people enjoyed.  A site that had a high number of hits per day.  “Make something people want,” said our investor, while handing out grey t-shirts with the same phrase.

We had days of moderately high hits, and our days of low hits.  None of this translated to any money.  And the reason was simple: we had no plan preconceived.  Our implicit plan was to shoot the moon: if we get a million visitors a day, then making some amount of cash should be easy — we can figure it out later.  Such was the recipe of the giants:  Google, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter.

[… more later]

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December 6, 2009 at 6:01 am Leave a comment


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