Sometimes there's nothing scarier than starting a business. Entrepreneurs have to deal with the dark unknown, with big, hairy problems that would send chills down anyone's spine. They may not take place in haunted houses, but that doesn't make them any less scary. In honor of Halloween, we asked our community to share some of their startup horror stories and this is what they had to say:
The Missprint from Hell
by Conrad Metcalfe
Years ago, as a fledgling startup, we produced a demo disk for distribution to potential customers. We decided it would be comforting to stamp the message "Guaranteed Virus-Free!" onto the printed label, and we arranged for the printer to include this stamp on every disk.
I decided to stop by the printer unexpectedly the morning the printing job was starting, and he was happy to show me the first disk as it came off the line. My face must have gone quite pale when I noticed that our comforting message had not fit neatly onto one line. The word "Free!" had been wrapped onto a second line by itself. The message now read "Guaranteed Virus" with the word "Free!" underneath. It came across as if we were offering a free virus - and it was guaranteed (to infect)! Obviously NOT the message we were trying to convey.
Luckily for us, the printing job was able to be stopped quickly and we made the necessary corrections. Sometimes it takes a spontaneous trip to avert a major disaster.
by Micah Widen
Years ago, before starting Domi Station, I owned a wine bar in Indiana. Now, this bar was housed in an old meat packing facility. Our admin offices were located in what used to be an old ice chest. The place was haunted! It gave me the creeps at night when no one was around. Every little sound echoed and I never felt alone.
One cold fall night, I found myself staying at the bar longer than expected. As I was going through some paperwork, I heard a crash from the kitchen that about made me fly out of my skin. I immediately went to check on it and of course, I took a weapon with me (wine bottle). When I got to the kitchen and turned on the lights, I found a pizza pan on the ground. What puzzled me was that there was no way the pizza pan could have fallen off the shelf by itself. But, none the less I put it back and went about my business. Not even 10 minutes later I heard another crash coming from the kitchen...and yet again, a damn pizza pan! At this point I was a little freaked out, so I told myself "10 more minutes and then I'm out of here".
As I was getting ready to leave, I felt something fly through my hair. I immediately threw my bag down and jumped on the ground. I started to get up slowly, but couldn't see anything...and then it happened again! This time I could see it was a bat, but not just one, two. From then on let's just say I had a nightmare on my hands trying to get those little jerks out.
The Corporate Witch Hunt
by John Perkins
I started Brightminds.com in 2008 with a long time colleague. Our intent was to provide a categorization/taxonomy service for all blogs. We were essentially going to be a better directory service than Guy Kawasaki's AllTop.
From a previous project, we discovered that while Google rewarded ranking based upon being the original source of content; Twitter had no such rule. So, we went about scraping articles and building indices with summaries and titles from the RSS provided data. We also started to register domain names like TorontoMapleLeafBlog.com, GreenBayPackersBlog.com, etc.
The company took off! We were very successful at driving traffic in a short period of time. However, it did not take too long for the "cease and desist" letters to start arriving from the NFL, NBA, NHL, NCAA, etc. We shut down soon after, but we figured out that what made Twitter so powerful was the ability to drive traffic without depending on Google or other search engines. Lesson learned.
Towing Companies (That's scary on its own)
by Deneuve Brutus
During the summer of 2015, I enrolled in Domi Station's Lean Launch Pad Course (LLP) for my app "towBuddy™". I took the course in hopes of finding a few team members. After giving my pitch no one was interested. This was fine, no big deal. "I'm a go getter!" I told myself.
As the course progressed, one of our overall goals was to validate our business model. This means spending many hours on the phone, on the streets, interviewing potential customers, clients and partners. This is where the trouble began. I called...the towing agencies in Tallahassee. I contacted all the "good ones". Their response to asking for a potential partnership with a service that let's people know they have been towed was all but stellar. Here are the top responses:
- What the hell do you need to do that for...
- *Hangs Up*
- Entertains the idea, *Abruptly hangs up*
- Get that $*^# out of here *@#**&^*!@$%...&#@$$
At this point I realized I was seriously stirring the pot around town. However, after being curse out, lied to, and hung up on, "towBuddy™" will be released to the masses. What can I say? I'm all about that entrepreneurial life.
The Evil from Inside
by William McClusky
When deciding to go out on your own, you need to worry about a lot of things: Is my idea really that good? Do I have enough money to get this started? Do I have the right team? Rarely do people ask "Am I healthy enough for this?".
Being a weekend-warrior, health has never been an issue for me. I exercised plenty, ate well, and aside from minor injuries, I was in great shape. Boy did that change! In the matter of a few hours I went from healthy to barely alive. Already having started my company, Proper Channel, and having zero experience with long-term recovery, I soldiered on. I kept my developer on the payroll and did everything I could to keep the company moving forward.
Looking back, I absolutely should have stopped what I was doing. If I could have just put everything on pause, I'm sure I would have healed faster and would have been able to put my startup capital to better use. Sometimes startups aren't about ideas, teams, or talent. Sometimes it all comes down to timing. Take care of yourselves, startup kids. You can't change the world if you're not healthy.
by Geoffery (Geo) Miller
In 2007, I started Writing Public - a website similar to the early version of YouTube, but for writing. I began working with friends to make my website a platform where members could curate writing submissions. Readers would grade articles using a standard grading scale (A,B,C,D,F) as well as become Writers by submitting their own work or providing feedback. Our plan was to take the top rated articles and compile them in a monthly publication where members would be paid for their work.
We built a large enough user base to cover operational costs through ad revenue. We were getting a consistent flow of new members thanks to MySpace.
But, things started to go downhill pretty quickly. As any proud founder, I tried my best to protect my website. The problem was, in my attempt to keep it safe, I ended up smothering it. The top priority bug with Writing Public was that the browser text editor had difficulty handling encodings from Microsoft Word when copy-pasting. I didn't know how to fix this problem and believed that no one else knew how to either. The problem was never fixed and it became a major issue.
The final blow that killed Writing Public was my lack of control over ownership. My partner at the time had drawn out an ownership pie that had me owning less than 20% while he was the controlling shareholder. He said to me "in a real company, your job would be a salaried position while mine would be of a board member". Without knowing it, I had been cut out of my own company. Needless to say, we don't do business together anymore.