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Fouling Out and Moving On (re: Notifo Shutdown) (jazzychad.net)
190 points by jazzychad on Sept 8, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 56 comments

Oh, damn. I honestly thought that Notifo would hit it big. FWIW and if it's of any consolation, Chad, you are not the only one who spent a lot of time on something that did not work out in the end. Been through that and killing a project as hard and unpleasant as it is, it made me feel liberated at some point shortly after. And as they say - what doesn't break you makes you stronger. So there is an upside.

The idea (of a central event feed) still stands, but as with any general idea there is a considerable amount of luck involved with acquiring the critical mass that leads to the exponent.

I, for one, never understood what Notifo did. I tried hard, but I promise I have no idea what it did. I knew it notified people, but not how to make use of it.

That being said, I am a bit sad (really, I am) to see someone quit his startup to join an upstart. I would rather see him go through YC again and surprise us with his next idea. I am sure this Jazzy Chad has a couple of more ideas, but maybe he is a bit burned and wants to take a break.

Take your break, Mr Jazzy, but be sure to return and push something out again.

Well, as an example - every time someone reply's to a comment I made on Hacker News I get a notification on my Phone thanks to Notifo.

Same with mentions on IRC.

So yeah, I'm a bit disappointed that it's going away - I liked the app, and was always surprised I didn't know more people using it. I wish Chad all the best for the future, and thanks for your hard work.

It was a notification system. An event happens somewhere (like someone mentions you on Twitter, or replies on HN), and you get a near-instant notification on your phone, tablet and/or desktop. Felt somehow better that old good email.

Another example, letting the office PBX send a notification for missed calls through notifo. I always figured it was a niche product, but it should have been big enough to succeed.

"... My startup is dead. ..."

When I read posts like this, the full acceptance of failure by US entrepreneurs, startups & business, I lament this positive trait isn't acknowledged in my country.

Same here. He's rightfully going to be treated as an experienced individual, whereas in my country you'd have an "I'm a failure" sign tattooed on your forehead by now, with nobody willing to do business with you again. This is what makes SV great.

Had a really interesting discussion group yesterday with the CEO (several billion a year revenue company) about the difference in attitude to planning and fear of failure in the English-speaking world versus Germany.

In English, if I want to get two things done, I aim for 5, hit three, and happily fail humiliatingly on my other two goals. In Germany, 'a plan is a promise', and anything you publically disclose absolutely must be completed.

This is so hard to say that as a founder. You've went through all the YC programs, see lots of friends/startups succeed, you keep hearing things like "Never give up".. but there's come a point where "You see things from a new perspective" and at this moment you need to decide either to continue, stop or pivot.

I always liked the concept behind notifo.. but also was wondering how it'd make money. But then, you can think of hundreds of startups and think the same way "How would they make money!?" and still, they're there for years and years. (Twitter someone?)

So true - for that matter, Dropbox, anyone?

Yeah.. I felt like Dropbox was easy to figure out how to make money (I.e. pay for storage). However, what seemed impossible was, "There's already x,y,z competitors in the field with years in advance..." And now, look at them :)

If it weren't for the generous free tier, you'd never say that. File storage is something people pay good money for, even when it doesn't have magic sync and sharing

Yes that's very true - I have a Dropbox Pro account (and CloudApp Pro and Google Paid Storage and Evernote Premium - yes, I do see the overlap in all this cloud storage) myself, but then it does feel like Dropbox have vastly more free users than paid - while this is of course brilliant for momentum, it feels as though Dropbox isn't taken as seriously as it could be as a paid storage service, given their generous free quota leaving most users without a real need to upgrade and those with greater storage needs eschewing Dropbox for other, older, more established alternatives (who also often provide more storage space). It seems that those of us who really cherish Dropbox's unique features are the ones left going after Dropbox Pro accounts...

Also, for that matter, Dropbox did initially put out their current set of paid storage plans as an 'interim' measure, until they could settle on a wider range of rates more suited to the general public (there is a fair amount of opinion suggesting that their prices are rather steep, even given the awesome extra features they provide...)

It is often said that failing with your startup can also be a good thing because it shows at least that you have been willing to try and learned a lot. Frankly speaking, I always felt this mantra a little bit "too good to be true" and that if your venture does not work out, you are screwed.

But after following Chad (and also Paul) with their ventures (even though I don't know them personally) and I just feel like this is one example where it is true: Yes, it didn't work out, yes, a lot of money was invested and not earned back.But ultimately a lot was learned and Chad has shown his development skills and ability to ship something. The business model was not perfect, maybe the market was non-existant. But the way they have run this project and the way they are handling it now gives them more credibility than trying to hide a stagnant startup.

Chad, did you try to position company for a talent acquisition? Can you lend insight into why this was not a good exit option for Notifo?

Yes, I did. I'm debating whether or not to write much detail about this in a separate post... but the gist is that the big companies were not interested in acquiring a one-person team, literally destroying any chance of a talent acquisition. Another strike against single-founders.

That may be a strike against being a single founder, but it seems like a strike in favour of single-founder startups: Because they don't have "talent acquisition" as an exit option, they're more likely to avoid dying.

More likely to run to $0 and shut down entirely, vs. a talent acquisition (which always looks better than a shut down, and has a chance of returning a tiny bit of capital to angels who invested early)?

Sounds like another point in favor of multi-founder startups. I wouldn't consider even a talent acquisition to be "dying" if the founders end up happy about it.

I would request you to write about this in a separate post.

I'd love to hear more about the single founder experience too, could you tell us more about that or write up a post about that?

Edit: I just found a post about your experience on your blog, thanks for writing about it already. For others who are curious about this, see here: http://blog.jazzychad.net/2011/08/31/applying-to-yc-as-a-sin...

Sorry to hear the news.

Also, I had no idea Paul Stamatiou left to join Picplum. How often do YC alums jump from a still running startup to another? Is it common?

We were going to make that news public, but then we were advised against it. So we didn't. I still have the post in my drafts folder. I will post it someday as it does contain some important lessons.

Ahh I see. Well, either way, best of luck at Twilio for now, and a startup in the future :)

Sad news Chad, but Twilio seems like it will be a great fit for you - at least until that itch comes back again :).

Chad has always been someone I wanted to work with, and now I get to! Hopefully that itch will lie dormant for awhile :)

@jazzychad how did marriage life affect all of this? did it influence your decision to quit notifo and join twilio? was the past year better or worse because of it? Would love to hear your take on this.

Back in March, Chad took the time to write up a history of his developing interest in this space, and I find that history gives a lot of context to what must be a tough decision now:


As mixed as your feelings might be, please reserve room for the feeling of knowing that your journey is inspiring to many many, many others out there.

This is very sad indeed.

It would be really interesting if you could share more of your experiences as a startup founder and some feedback to upcoming founders regarding how your startup ended up this way.

We are embarking on this adventure ourselves, and right now our biggest disadvantage is experience in the startup arena. We work hard, we are passionate and we have great ideas... just like you. But I believe that is not enough.

So anything else you could share would be great.

You may have already seen these, but here are two:

- http://blog.jazzychad.net/2011/05/02/startups-are-hard.html

- http://blog.jazzychad.net/2011/08/31/applying-to-yc-as-a-sin...

I have a couple more that are written, but now is not the time to post them.

Yes I have read those. We have been following your blog posts for a while now.

Whenever you feel is right, share your thoughts. :D

I read the title as a basketball metaphor, not baseball, and it still worked. The power of sports metaphors.

> The power of sports metaphors

If you understand the games it's about. I have no idea what the rules of baseball are, how you win, how you lose, etc. (I'm French) and found the whole baseball paragraph hard to understand.

In the end it seems to mean that you can lose trying, or lose not even trying -- but if one's not trying why are they even in the field?

IMHO such posts should be more informative: what was the original plan to make money, what was tried, what failed and why; who were supposed to be the paying customers: users, carriers, phone makers, app developers or...?

And what were the operating costs? Wouldn't it have been possible to keep it running "on the side"?

As such it's a sad story that makes us sad; but we'd like to learn more.

Same here - I like both actually. If you foul out in basketball it indicates that you were playing a hard, scrappy game, so again, not too far from the world of startups. The baseball interpretation has the added implication that instead of "hitting a home run" or even a "single" or a "double", you got things off the ground but didn't get past that.

Kudos for having the gumption to write this all down. Best of luck at Twilio. They're lucky to have landed you.

Funny, I hadn't thought of the basketball metaphor. Maybe that's what my friend meant, and I didn't know it! Just shows my bias toward baseball.

The baseball metaphor actually struck me as a little odd, why a foul out not a fly out?

And, given you haven't had a recorded out but instead just failed to find the success needed to get on base, perhaps you just kept fouling the ball off until you got tired and decided to retire :)

Sounds like you came a long, long way. As a former little league baseball and musician myself, who has started my fair share of bands, and other ventures, I can totally relate to the feeling of putting so much in, and having to hang 'em up when things just aren't working out for one reason or another. For whatever it's worth, consider this: even the most talented, hardworking ballplayers never even make it to the show. Unlike those guys, there's not really an age limit in your field, and instead of needing a few hundred pros (or thousand, if you count the minors too) as a software engineer you'll have lots of time and opportunity to get back up to the plate (too many sports metaphors -- is there such a thing?)

All the best at Twilio :-)

Sorry to hear it Chad. I haven't used Notifo but followed your work, and saw you present a few months back at the real-time API meetup at Mulesoft's offices.

You seem like a sharp guy with tons of enthusiasm for what you have built (and will build in the future), so I am sure you will be successful here in SV.

On the single co-founder aspect - wow, I can't imagine. Aside from the moral support though, one thing you might want to consider is how a second cofounder could provide complementary/different skills from your own.

For example, partner with a business type person. Business models are hard, but lots of people have been through the experience of testing various pricing models, and could probably help you get closer to $$ faster.

I'm sorry to hear that. For me, I have heard of it and I looked on the website, but I didn't dig deeper. I wanted a simple video to tell me what it is and what can it do for me, but there wasn't. "Real-time notifications from tons of services pushed to your mobile phone. Free. " I didn't understand why would this be useful to me, when the services I currently use had push notifications. It seemed like a redundant app. I feel like the marketing of this product was not powerful enough. You just needed to show me how I can use this and how I can fit this into my lifestyle. My 2 cents.

Thank you for your post as it gives us a much needed dose of realism when everyone dreams of hitting it big. It's not to disuade people from following their dream, but to realize the extent of challenges they will face.

I look forward to your post-mortem article. I wish more startups who do not "make it" come out and write about their experience so that we don't hear only about the successful ones. I certainly admire people who are successful, but I truly respect those who fail and are not afraid to admit it and learn from what went wrong.

Kudos on being able to shut down cleanly.

The world has lots of stories on starting up, but way too few on shutting down. If you can bear to, please write about your experiences!

There were certainly many factors that I don't know about at play here, but it makes me wonder if there's more truth to all that talk about single founder startups than I thought.

Whatever the exact reasons for this unfortunate event are, maybe a second founder could have helped averting this.

Yes, the single-founder aspect did play a part in the outcome here (see another one of my comments in this thread).

There are two way to interpret, "Never Give Up"

1 - Never Give Up on the current project.

2 - Never Give Up on big ideas.

Hang in there and heed PG's advice on #2. It's very small consolation, but you're 20 months smarter and wiser than when you started, and the market is still receptive. Be resilient, and you will land well.

Wow. Am impressed by the support one gets on HN. Keep it up guys and wish you the best of luck chad.

So very sorry to hear about this.

In the next few months, if you can muster up the energy (and desire) I think the community would love to hear a post-mortem and/or some thoughts about how you could have pivoted into a successful business model.

Keep your head up, the experienced gained is invaluable!

Yes, I will be writing a post-mortem article about all of this, but it might take a while.

Sorry to hear about this. Nevertheless it is an inspiration to the rest of us, thanks so much for sharing your story. Best of luck to you and Paul both, you both have great blogs, I'm now a subscriber. :)

Sad to see it's closed. Hope you gain many intangibles out of the adventure despite the closing.

Do you mind sharing any lessons? What's the cost like for running Notifo?

I guess you already did that, but just in case : did you try kickstarter ? Maybe you can use it as an iron lung as well ?

I used Notifo to notify me of critical issues when on call, because there is no better service to do this on the iPhone.

Sorry to hear that, I was a fan and user. Will any of the code survive as open source with a friendly license?

Sorry to hear Chad! Best of luck at Twillio. I look forward to the next time you wear the founder hat again.

Oh man, this hurt deep inside. Good luck Chad. I hope you'll keep building more awesome tools on the side.

Good luck at your next gig, and I look forward to the next at bat

Good luck Chad.

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