It’s painful to walk away from what we hold most dear; especially when we invested an immeasurable amount of time, energy and heart into something. For founders, that’s shutting down your product and closing your company. And as a first time founder, the end of our company pains me more than I expected. First when we made the decision to shut down Liberio a few months ago, again as I’m typing this post, and I know it’ll hurt again when the platform finally closes up shop for good next month.
Two years ago, when I co-founded Liberio, I knew it was a possibility that we wouldn’t make it. After all, 95% of startups fail. I didn’t harp on it though, because ultimately it wouldn’t provide any extra drive or incentive for me as a founder. Instead, I focused on our mission and on building our young company into something amazing.
With Liberio, a platform for eBook creation and publishing, our dream was to flip a very traditional market on its head. I have a thing for ambitious products in not-so-sexy markets, and publishing is definitely one of those. We wanted to do for eBooks what the App Store did for software — enable everyone to create, build and monetize on what they’d made.
Unfortunately, our startup story, like many others, doesn’t have an ending fit for Disney.
It was a succailure
There were a number of things that played a role in why we ended up in the situation we’re in. But at the end of the day, we had two options: Let it go or let it drag. And letting it drag on would not only make it worse for us, but seriously tarnish the experience we worked so hard to continually provide for our users. We owed every single one of them to make a responsible decision, because they trusted and believed in us, and we were accountable for that. That and they are probably the toughest part of this scenario.
Liberio was in many ways a “succailure” (I adopted this word from an interview I read of Matt Miller, CEO of ustwo studios). It was the culmination of a number of feature releases and valuable learnings — in product and business, without being able to make the economics work. In that respect, though we had challenges fundraising in the very traditional publishing market, this experience was full of valuable learnings for me personally and for us as a team. All-in-all, we made a huge dent in a traditional market and created a product people truly fell in love with.
I learned what it means to found a company and build a product from the ground up. How to make all the big and small decisions and how to deal with the repercussions that come with said decisions. I learned how much I appreciate customer support teams, and that as a team of two fundraising means critical time away from the product. The gruesomeness that occurs and is necessary to create and solidify a brand that sticks into people’s brains, and a much longer list that I’ve logged. However, as much as we excelled in some areas, we didn’t succeed in others. Unfortunately, that’s part of the startup game and the stem of my biggest lessons learned as a first-time founder.
I’m remarkably humbled by the feedback and slew of compliment filled emails, tweets, and messages I’ve received regarding Liberio over the course of the past 2 years. With users from all over the world, I watched as they used the platform to write and share their story — at times and in places where no one else would listen. And in turn, they helped us write ours. However, much like any good book, there comes a time where it has to end, and you hope it leaves a lasting impression when it does.
We came further than many startups do in a short amount of time and I learned more than I could have ever hoped for. We certainly weren’t a unicorn, we didn’t reach profitability despite our revenue stream. We didn’t hire a team of 10+ and didn’t raise funds from the biggest investors in the valley. But with all of the positives and negatives considered, I’d say that’s a pretty good succailure.
Ultimately, we know there is far more that could be built by others based off Liberio’s initial dreams, at a much more rapid pace than we could. Given that fact, we’re planning to open source our technology somewhere in the future. Which leaves me content knowing Liberio’s story can continue on in some form.
You can’t connect the dots looking forward you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. — Steve Jobs
My next chapter
I’ve spent the past few months doing some consulting and freelancing, and working with other startups as an advisor. Anyone who knows me also understands how big of an advocate I am for side-projects. I’m a big believer in that they keep your creative brain sane, and give you a playing field to experiment and explore — both necessary for any form of innovation. And so, as we closed up Liberio, I started working on something new.
For anyone who follows me on Twitter, you’ve probably seen me talking about it continuously and soon I’ll be sharing more about it. I can’t wait for you all to see it.
On that note, I say farewell to Liberio. It’s been a ride and I will miss you terribly. Now to open the next book. Because honestly, who doesn’t enjoy the thrill of starting a new book, when you already know it’s going to be a hell of a story…
In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing a slew of lessons learned so others can learn from the challenges, ups and downs, and most of all, the lessons and wisdom that we’ve taken away from this.
Want to chat about this? Anything specific you’d like to see or can benefit/learn from reading? Be sure to tweet me @imcatnoone or send an email my way: firstname.lastname@example.org. And sign up for my newsletter to follow along.