Startup lessons from (very almost) launching a travel app

So, after a few ups, downs and roundabouts, we’re taking Faraway in a new direction (our first pivot!). This means, a year after “launching” the app, we’re taking it down again — and getting cracking with a few startup lessons under our belt.

More to come on the new concept soon — but for now let’s close this chapter with a few highs, lows and learnings.

So, the highs…

Working with our tech team to build a beautiful app. Getting to know our PM Lillian, learning to work as a remote team and finally meeting everyone in Goa this January. Catching the sun rise over the London skyline during our weekly 6am calls was pretty special too

Seeing people download the app. (All 240 of them!!) Ok, we’re not using it now — but hopefully we’ll re-purpose some functionality for Phase 2

That time when we convinced a well-known adventurer to become our brand ambassador. And soon realised he had as little time to commit to it as we did (a very nice chap and great compliment, nonetheless)

The encouragement, cheerleading and help from our friends and family. You lot have been nothing short of wonderful throughout this startup journey — thank you

Being in this together. Soppy, maybe, but it was a pretty amazing feeling deciding to build a business together. Two years later, we’re still committed to persisting with our crazy ambition — and have learned we work really well together

And, the lows…

It’s much harder work that we’d ever imagined. We’d naively under-estimated the hours and the headspace required. We thought we could “dabble” in entrepreneurship alongside our full-time jobs, like every other startup story we’d heard. (Who are these super-founders?!)

Realising we were veering off course, but not knowing how or where to ask for help in getting back on track. We’d pinned our hopes on joining an accelerator programme or finding a travel-loving mentor — but it turns out there’s a lot of competition for that sort of thing

Feeling utterly exhausted by the time we got to launch, and learning we’d barely scratched the surface. We’d read about the enormous highs and mega lows of launching a startup, but for us it was more just an emotional slog. When you’re having to learn almost everything from scratch in your spare time, there’s little time to unwind, go for a run, clear your head or even pause for breath

Startup lessons

So, here are a few lessons we’ve taken from this experience which should help us — and maybe others too — from here. That’s not to say we’ve got everything figured out, but hopefully there’s something to help others at the beginning of their startup journey…

1. Do our market validation before building anything

It sounds so obvious (and yes, we’ve kicked ourselves about it). But faced with so many ambiguities, it was easy to grab onto the one thing that was under our control and had clear next steps — the tech.

We’re trying to approach things differently this time around by…

    • Taking part in FFWD London (start-up school) alongside 20 other hungry start-ups. It’s just finished, and we’re so excited to keep putting the learnings into practice. Applications are open for the next one — I can’t recommend it highly enough
    • Speaking to as many potential customers as possible.. Our copy of The Mom Test is very well-thumbed now. Thanks so much to everyone who’s generously helped with our requests!
  • Operating a “Concierge MVP” (essentially a very low-tech, hands-on approach) to gather plenty of first-hand insights as we re-build our business

2. De-risk as much as possible and then commit

I’m not sure there’s ever a “right time” to start. But attempting to juggle a new business alongside full-time jobs, a wedding and moving house was, on reflection, the wrong time.

We’ve heard lots of conflicting advice on this. “Stay in your jobs for as long as possible as you start a side project”. “One of you go full-time whilst the other one keeps working”. “Dive in — because only when the payslips stop coming in will panic (and action) really set in”. We’ve tried each of these approaches and felt pain along the way with all of them.

For now, we’re both working full-time on Faraway — but we’ve taken steps to offset some of the risk (although, of course, not all of it).

We’ve made some sacrifices and other things have worked in our favour. Al took voluntary redundancy at the end of the year, I’d put aside savings from contract work and we’ve been able to move back in with family. In order to save our sanity (and marriage?!) we’ve rented some office space and are planning in short bursts, tackling one challenge at a time. We’ve also set ourselves some shorter deadlines so we remember to lift our heads up more frequently and check we’re on course.

Fingers crossed, it seems to be working so far.

3. Be more pro-active about our health (physical and mental)

See the point about Exhaustion above. Turns out building a business is as much about grit and stamina as it is anything else — and it’s hard to bring your A game when you’re shattered.

We’re still working on this one — but so far, anything that involves getting away from a screen seems to help! One of the big up-sides to village life in Surrey is being surrounded by rolling hills and clear starry skies. Now Spring’s here, I can’t wait to get out and make the most of it.

Ok, that’s it for now. Wish us luck…

(Oh, and please feel free to get in touch — whether you want to share startup lessons or are dreaming about a far-flung trip)

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