The Upcoming Buyosphere + Its Future

Since I put up my post yesterday about getting a J.O.B., I’ve been answering a long series of questions about Buyosphere and what we’re doing with it. First off, the plan is to soldier on as I said. Of course there are complications to this. All three of the founders are now engaged in full-time jobs and projects that support us financially – and none of us chose work that is lightweight. And speaking of lightweight, the decision to take work outside of the company we have all spent the past 2.5 years sacrificing our financial security and even our relationships for wasn’t a simple one.

But the reality is that we raised  enough money to last us 6 months last November and that money was gone in May. And since we had bootstrapped previously for a year and a half, none of us had savings left and all of our spouses/partners had also put themselves in debt to support us.

So in March when we saw the money was nearly gone, Cassandra, Jerome and I sat down and talked about all of the different ways to proceed:

  1. Sell Buyosphere – but what was there to sell? We weren’t happy with the design and usability and though we were growing steadily, there wasn’t a hockey stick.
  2. Raise more money – fine, but looking at the bottom line, we had already given away 40% of our company in the seed stage (mostly because of mistakes with how we structured our Friends & Family – convertible debt, unpriced and WAY too generous) and hadn’t reached our seed stage goals, so this was going to be even harder than before. And before was hard.
  3. Walk away – we seriously thought about it, but  we all still believe in the vision and just felt at that moment that it deserved a fighting chance.
  4. Take the last of the money we had and put it into a proper redesign, then figure out what to do – this was my vote. If we were going down, let’s go down in a blaze of glory. Or at least with a product we could be proud of.

So we proceeded with #4. We hired a NYC design firm with good experience in this area, gathered oodles of data and insight to help guide our direction: user testing (people unfamiliar with Buyosphere), focus group type stuff (we had a group of fashion bloggers come in for 2 weeks of intense use and then give us their brutal feedback at the end) and did a pretty epic user survey (3 pages of 25 questions).

Originally, we were going to launch in June, but that timeframe didn’t align with our desire to do it right. We’re an agile team, but have learned the difference between MVP and WTH. If we were going to do this, we would do this right. So a 3 month sprint turned into a 6 month project. We rebuilt the site pretty much from scratch and created what we think is something that shows the real promise of Buyosphere. Here are some mockups…as we haven’t unveiled the new site quite yet:

As you can see, there is a big difference from the previous site and, well, a vast improvement. The site will finally be at a place where we can tweak and improve and build on it. We haven’t had a real design done for over a year and the one at that time was lovely, but for a very different site (if you recall, we were previously centered around the bookmarklet and collecting wants and haves).

But as exciting as this is, for those of you who did the calculation in your head, something still didn’t add up…am I right? We ran out of money in May/June as ‘planned’ and we had come to that “then we figure out what to do” stage.

Frankly, I was still unsure. I could re-ignite my speaking career. That had been lucrative and I could do those gigs I hated (“how to use social media for marketing” ugh) to rebuild. I hadn’t imagined the book yet, but for anyone who has written a book, you know you don’t do it for the money ;). I could consult. I had been pinged by lots of recruiters over the year, so I looked into that. But I wasn’t really ‘feeling it’. To add to my ennui, I assumed I would have to leave Montreal for work because, well, I don’t speak French very well. That would mean that I would have to be apart from Carlos. And though Carlos has been the most supportive boyfriend in the world, he was already feeling the mega financial strain from my crazy startup life. I had put him into debt subsidizing my meagre income (below minimum wage for sure, but less than I’ve made since I was 21!) and now I had zero to contribute to rent, food or anything.

Nothing was looking right, though I had poked around a bit. I was feeling lost. I feel like I had taken a gamble and screwed everything and everyone up.

Then Tuxedo came along. As I said in my previous post, I didn’t really mean it to happen. It just did. I had never considered working at an agency. I did that in my 20’s and hated it. But I went to their 2 year anniversary party and left with a new hope. Over the next few months of talking, interviewing and negotiating, I made it clear that I would keep Buyosphere (and researching for a book) and they would get my full attention to the position they hired me for. I recognize this is easier said than done (and in my first two weeks at Tux, I’ve pulled some pretty significant hours!), and there is always the question, “What happens if Buyosphere takes off?” But once again, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. I’m committed to my new team and career and I’m committed to making sure Buyosphere is seen through.

We should be opening publicly in the next few weeks. Right now it’s a matter of making sure the three of us founders have a window where we can focus on launching properly (ramping up at a new job is time consuming and I want to be able to support a launch). But like I keep saying to people, I’m no longer in a rush. Without having to beat clocks and worrying about the money in the bank, I’m more focused on doing this RIGHT not RUSHED. It’s my new motto and it feels better. I know Buyosphere is still early to market. The idea that brands will come to the consumer (VRM) is lauded in the geek community, but still leaves brands and consumers scratching their heads. I’m hoping that we can not only push it gently, but be there and ready when it makes perfect sense.

So that’s it. That’s the story. I know that there are still lessons to convey (my next in the series of ‘Mistakes I’ve Made’), but the biggest lesson here – and it’s one that is largely missed by the incredibly optimistic and often overly-privileged startup community – is that it DOES take money to build stuff. And time. And those who have a large supply of both have more runway to make several mistakes on the road to über success.

Most of us don’t have big wads of cash and time to burn, so we have one shot and then we have to figure out how to pay the rent and feed ourselves. And those who achieve success in one shot are just as lucky as they are admirable. And those who don’t believe that are either privileged (have time and money to figure stuff out) or amnesic.

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Categories: Buyosphere, entrepreneurship, featured, personal

Author:Tara Hunt

Strategist. Researcher. Interdisciplinarian. Founder, Lime Foundry + Buyosphere. Author, The Whuffie Factor. Speaker. Mother. Karaoke lover.

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9 Comments on “The Upcoming Buyosphere + Its Future”

  1. alexaclark
    September 22, 2012 at 22:14 #

    Very well said Tara, and congratulations for addressing it head on. “it DOES take money to build stuff. And time.” And tenacity, and ramen noodles, and sometimes, a full time j.o.b.
    I can’t wait to see what you do at Tuxedo and to see what the future holds for Buyosphere.
    You are, as always, an inspiration.

  2. September 23, 2012 at 00:44 #

    It takes having an investment team that knows it’s not about squeezing you dry but about enabling your greatness. Congratulations on seeing it was time for a different approach; that alone is amazing. I hope you’ll continue to write about lessons learned so other entrepreneurs can learn from what you learned.

  3. September 23, 2012 at 12:57 #

    Thanks for sharing. I think real life stories from the startup world are always an great read and provide perspective. Ever done an accelerator?

  4. September 23, 2012 at 13:06 #

    thanks for the candid and insightful glimpse into your thought processes. you continue to inspire people.

  5. September 23, 2012 at 18:35 #

    What we do is insane, right? Thank you for speaking from your heart and noticing and saying things that really matter + inspire. It absolutely takes money + time to build stuff. Which is why it’s exciting you bought yourself miles of runway with something you love and are good at. Can’t wait to see the Upcoming Buyosphere!

  6. September 24, 2012 at 01:41 #

    Thanks for your detailed thoughts, Tara. I often feel uneasy with the typical startup “try rough things and see what sticks” approach, given that I have a strong leaning to doing things right. At Y Combinator and similar, almost all of their returns come from very few of their investees, so they tilt more toward quantity than quality, and toward “fail fast”, and expect almost all of their founders to fail. I don’t wish to be investors’ cannon fodder. I’d rather put in the time, knowing that others may beat me to market — if so too bad; it’s a risk but then startups are nothing but risky anyway. And while we’re all afraid of being beaten to market, we’ve also seen where later-and-better wins. I’ve been struggling with a bit of a similar situation myself and your post has helped clarify it for me – so thanks!

  7. September 24, 2012 at 13:17 #

    Dear Tara,

    What an amazing post you’ve written and how smart your and your cofounders’ decision-making has been. My younger brother and I started our startup WITHOUT any seed money and we couldn’t see it through. That was what taught us that money IS very necessary, and sustaining that amount of money for a long period of time, also does take time AND more money. Kudos to you and your team, and specifically to you, because you were brave enough to know when to walk away and let the project sit until you can do it right.

  8. September 25, 2012 at 07:01 #

    Hi Tara,

    I originally saw this reposted on Women 2.0 and it really struck a chord with me. I was in a similar situation, having started a film festival with a couple of friends. In the end we didn’t make any money, we all put a significant amount of money into it, and having dedicated myself to the festival I went more than a year without a paying job. At this point, myself and another co-founder are looking for jobs, so nobody has time to organize another festival. And it sucks when people ask us where we are with that, and if we’re doing it again. But you’re right – it takes time AND money. There’s nothing wrong with pulling back, taking care of necessities, and taking your time to build a quality product. That’s not the norm, of course, so all the more important that you’ve shared this story.

    Thanks for the encouragement!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Needium et la dure réalité des startups — Le blogue à Steph - September 26, 2012

    [...] semblerait que Buyosphere, une autre startup de Montréal, soit aussi en difficulté. Mais il y a aussi des bonnes nouvelles, comme Crowdbase de Québec qui a le vent dans les voiles. [...]

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