Failed Launches: An Ode to Mothballed Projects Everywhere

It’s been an interesting half year since the full launch of Lift.

I had a huge number of inbound enquiries about people who wanted to partner up and launch one of the twelve startups together. Unfortunately, this attention ultimately doomed the pace of development and left many projects in undefined limbo. It comes as no surprise but the main reasons for not launching many of these projects comes down to:

1) Over-reliance on other people that creates an unresolvable bottleneck
2) Projects reaching a point where it requires too many resources to meaningfully move forward

I’m outlining four failed launches below that for various reasons didn’t make it out of the door. They’re not necessarily dead for good, but they’re certainly on hold for now.

Digital Taipans

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Elevator Pitch

Digital Taipans is an online community that promotes open knowledge sharing in Hong Kong’s fintech scene.

About

Digital Taipans is a digital community for fintech in Hong Kong. Unlike existing offline institutions which are exclusive, Digital Taipans is an inclusive place for entrepreneurs, financiers, and developers to exchange information.

Finance by default has a high domain expertise requirement which makes it difficult for entrepreneurs and developers to move quickly. Creating an inclusive space that encourages knowledge sharing should help spur the development of fintech in Hong Kong

MVP

Rather than build an entire app from scratch. the easiest method is to leverage existing platforms. After deliberation, I chose Slack as it’s got better cross–platform support than mobile messaging apps like WhatsApp.

Why it didn’t work

Failure to get motivated early adopters to contribute to the community and interact with each other. This could be rectified with more time input and ensuring there is enough content on a regular basis. Unfortuntately I need to get a few more people involved to make this a reality.

CardsMachine

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Elevator Pitch

Order your business cards online in under 3 minutes and have them delivered to your doorstep within 3 days.

About

CardsMachine was born out of a gap in Hong Kong’s market which I identified in an earlier blog post about printing business cards in Hong Kong.

While there are cheap options and fast options, there are no easy options for printing business cards in Hong Kong. A service with a heavy emphasis on UX seems like it has a place in Hong Kong.

After doing a bunch of interviews with business owners and HR managers who print cards on a very regular basis the most obvious problem is the difficulty in making re-orders of similar cards. The ideal solution would be some kind of ordering system that allows users to input alternative information into a saved design.

MVP

Of course, building a web-app of this scale is out of the question. Looking at the core problem of UX and time spent ordering it seemed clear that solving for this would be enough of an MVP.

This lead to thinking about the process of ordering cards currently and what the pain points were. The outcome of this exercise eventually became the blog post ‘How to Print Business Cards in Hong Kong’ but the true realisation was that a lot of the complexity was navigating a long tree structure of decisions that needed to be made when ordering cards. This complexity of decision trees creates fatigue and the negative reaction to the experience.

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Therefore, the MVP had to be something that managed to handle conditional logic on a decision tree. Once I realised this the MVP became a lot clearer - rather than having a web-application, the order process can actually be simplified by having an advanced form that can handle conditional logic.

Forms are great when bringing users through decision trees as they force users to make sequential decisions and only show the available options. This means users aren't faced with option overload and decision fatigue by being presented with all the options at once.

On top of painless ordering (online form ), adding easy payments (credit card), and simple delivery options (courier) made for a heavily UX weighted product.

Why it didn’t work

I went as far as designing the landing page, building the conditional logic in a form, preparing a payment gateway, and figuring out marketing automation tests. Yet I haven’t launched yet, why?

The simple answer is that I’m concerned how much time this venture will take. Theoretically it should run quite smoothly with orders flowing in through the form and being passed on the manufacturer before being delivered out. Yet we all know that theory never quite holds up like that in practice. It’s a bit of a cop out but I know that service businesses take up a tonne of time (like Lift is now) so I think I’m just scared off by it.

This is probably something I’ll pick up once I feel like I’m a little less stretched for time, perhaps towards the end of the 12 startups projects.

HedgeFund Stack

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Elevator Pitch

The best technology available to the modern hedge fund, hand-picked and in one place.

About

The idea for Hedge Fund Stack came when we were trying to market my previous startup Seed Alpha to institutional investors.

In the startup world, there are many high-quality product aggregators like Product Hunt where the community shares, votes, and comments on the best startups. More recently Product Hunt has become a general launch platform for any type of product, not just startups.

Unfortunately, there are only two product aggregators that list financial products; Capterra and Diliger.

Both of these sites suffer from information overload and in the case of Diliger, terrible UX. Neither is particularly helpful in making a meaningful decision about what companies we should be looking at as they are simply too many.

What is lacking is a curated selection of such products and clear method to access these.

MVP

One of the most voted products on Product Hunt is StartupStash which is a website which categorises products and services for startups – a one-stop-shop.

Inspired by this I started designing a similar site but simply focused on Hedge Fund Technology. I soon realised, however, that the process of going through each of the categories and conducting research is incredibly time-consuming and not very well suited to rapid prototyping…

The solution? Crowdsource!

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I started asking for recommendations of the best tools that investors use on a day-to-day basis using a combination of Twitter, LinkedIn and Email with the ultimate goal of aggregating them into a Google Sheet and just making that sheet public for launch.

Why it didn’t work

The crowdsourcing effort wasn’t enough to aggregate enough data points to make a useful product. Unlike the startup world which thrives on sharing the finance world thrives on not. Obvious observations are obvious.

It seems that in order to actually get this product off the ground requires doing more of the research. I’m currently exploring ways to accelerate this but until then the project is mothballed.

Sumren

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Elevator Pitch

Every company generates data as a by-product of its operations but companies don’t know who and how to sell their data. As a result, this data is difficult to find and expensive to integrate with.

Sumren unlocks the economic value of all this data and put it to productive use in finance through its marketplace.

About

The idea for Sumren was borne out of the experience I had building fintech products in the past. It’s ridiculously difficult to get comprehensive data coverage without paying an arm and a leg for data–something most startups can’t afford at all.

When I was approached by an ex-colleague to look into how we could create something valuable to other startups we realised that we would effectively be competing with existing products like Quandl and Xignite but just trying to provide the same feeds cheaper…not a very attractive business model.

Eventually, we figured that the solution was to move up the value chain into alternative data.

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This seemed to strike a chord with people as the data types we were proposing generated some interest. We managed to validate quite a few data sources that we could acquire ourselves and resell to investment funds.

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Why it didn’t work

Ultimately, Sumren requires more in-depth discussions with clients. Ideally, we’d use Lift to get in front of such people but with current bandwidth full and not being able to pay for the service (yes, I’d charge myself!) we just need better connections and/or funding to push forward with this project.

The biggest lesson here is re-learning that B2B in finance is a long, slow ramp and very difficult to execute quickly.

What’s next?

Even in failure, there are some very valuable lessons here. While none of these projects have pushed me closer to my goal of launching 12 startups, they have helped pave the way for the next batch of products that I’m working on. It’s pretty obvious that 12 months isn’t going to be long enough but I’ll be damned if I don’t power through a launch a few more!

If you're interested in working on any of the above just shoot me a line (hanshanhk [at] gmail dot com) and I'd be happy to chat.

Here is a sneak peak of the direction the next few startups are likely to go in:

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If that looks interesting, join my mailing list to learn more: