This one is a little wacky! In hopes of building a business that would make us rich and famous with as little actual work as possible, my friend Alex Todaro and I created Deja Vu By You. It's a postcard service that operates in the future. I won't tell you how it works cause that would ruin the magic.
What I will tell you though is that it kind of failed. We launched the service on April Fools Day, 2013. Expecting that only a few would order a postcard without any marketing initiative, we were wrong. Within hours we had twenty orders— one of the first was a guy from Mumbai (we're still very unclear as to how he found our site) and we apologetically had to tell him we couldn't send him one internationally.
The orders kept coming in and we were pleased. We though to ourselves, "we're gonna be rich".
Three months later we realized we had to print those postcards and that we didn't have a clue as to how to do that. We knew a little about printing and had both had print design backgrounds but we had made some early mistakes. One of those being that we had not stipulated the image size in the form submission so we couldn't simply pre-populate a template and call it a day. Instead we had to do each and every one by hand. Also, the data was being captured by a third party service and the payment by another so we were losing more than 20% on each order before fulfillment. Lastly, planning the timeline was a nightmare. Since all the cards were ordered on different days we had to hand keep a calendar and remember to send the cards in hopes that they would arrive with the users expected timeline
Soon after this we pulled the plug on the site. And a year later we made the last batch of postcards. We had a retrospective to talk about the things we learned. The biggest lesson was that the world won't wait for you to get everything perfect nor will they care. Many people love being the first to the new shop and enjoy trying new things. With a lower price point we had set ourselves up for early success. But without marketing and dedication to building a robust business strategy, we were dead in the water. We didn't know how to incubate our early success into a larger base of customers and create the type of growth or reach we needed. We also failed to set milestones from the start and although we tried to keep the product as simple as possible we never met the goals it needed to reach for example: automating the postcard printing and shipping. In the end these things taught us a lot and I am constantly using this as an example within teams and on projects of how great ideas, totally pulled off (even if it was clunky), can blow up in your face because product strategy was never clearly defined.
I should mention though that we're constantly talking about resurrecting the site and we've pitched it to non-profits like 826 National and Code for America and they have shown interest in using it as a fundraising tool. We hope to reboot this nostalgia time machine soon, but only time will tell.